In his fourteenth season, LaMarcus Aldridge will continue to be the offensive bedrock of the San Antonio Spurs, but can he elevate his game even further to make a deep post-season run?
Big man LaMarcus Aldridge is approaching one of the most important years in San Antonio Spurs history. While his level of play has increased over the past couple of seasons, the newly turned 34-year-old is on a team where the youth movement has never been stronger while maintaining the same end-game: “This team can win a championship.”
While outside opinions may counter-act that belief, the motto for the silver and black will never change if Gregg Charles Popovich is in a suit with his hair parted, on the sideline screaming until his voice goes. All jokes aside, Aldridge now entering the twilight years of his prime, though he is still producing at a very high level. His importance to this team is undeniable.
Since his arrival to the Alamo City, he has kept the Spurs afloat in playoff contention. After the Tim Duncan era, he is looked at by many Spurs fans as the next big-time power forward to play at AT&T Center.
While the expectations for that are unfair, he has been the team’s best free agent acquisition of this decade, and one that San Antonio has embraced for the past four seasons and beyond. If the Spurs want to make a deep post-season run, they’re going to need their All-NBA Power Forward/Center at his peak to carry them.
Next: LaMarcus' current outlook
LaMarcus’ current status
Among his peers, Aldridge is looked at as a perennial All-Star that is one season removed from an All-NBA berth. In a recent article posted by Sports Illustrated, LaMarcus found himself ranked No. 16 among the NBA’s Top 100 players of the 2020 Season. Ranking fourth amongst centers in terms of points per game and third amongst power forwards, Aldridge is one of the best mid-range scorers of his generation.
LaMarcus tied with his teammate, DeMar DeRozan, as a top 20 scorer in the entire NBA last season. Aldridge is coming off one of the most efficient, effective regular seasons of his career. Posting up a regular-season line of 21.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.3 blocks on 52 percent shooting from the field and 85 percent from the free throw line.
The numbers above have significance to them. Aldridge found a groove with DeRozan over the course of last season. While the duo is looked at as one of the lower-tier NBA dynamic duos, you could see their ability to play off one another offensively leads to a much more dynamic, efficient play from the both of them.
Aldridge posted a career-high in blocks and his highest assist total per game since joining the San Antonio Spurs. The assist numbers are important, as they’ve climbed from his mere 1.5 assists per game back in his first season in San Antonio. Aldridge is one of the best passers from the post in the league – he commands a double team on most nights when you see him banging bodies down low.
His ability to pass from the post makes the defense become mindful of the fact that if you send the double, the open man gets found consistently, which leads to an open catch-and-shoot threes.
The Spurs have an arsenal of catch-and-shoot snipers, especially with the newly acquired DeMarre Carroll, who takes about six catch-and-shoot three-point shots a game. No. 12 for the Spurs is coming off his best season in San Antonio and in my eyes, his progression won’t stop here.
Next: Expectations for Aldridge's 2019-20 campaign
Expectations for Aldridge’s 2019-20 campaign
My expectations for the Dallas native are focused on consistency and developing a three-point shot rather than more offensive productivity. I don’t expect, nor want, LaMarcus Aldridge to put up 25 shots a night and average 31 a game. That load is unnecessary and is not in the best interest of this team.
I’d like to see him add another dimension to his game, especially a three-point shot. With extended range comes creative and diligent shot selection, which leads to him still shooting about 17 times a game, but at an even more efficient clip.
LaMarcus is what he is at this point. He’s a diverse scoring big from any range between 0-18 feet. His passing, rebounding and defense are all valuable assets to his game. Even with age, you see him moving better than he did the past couple of seasons.
Prior to last season, Aldridge increased his three-point shots. Most of his triples are catch-and-shoot, set shots that are most likely to come from the corner. He shot 105 threes during his last year in Portland, 56 in 2016-17, 92 in 2017-18, and last season, he shot only 42. His combined three-point percentage from that sample size is 32.8%.
Shooting relatively 33 percent as a modern-day big man who came from the old school era is plentiful in terms of production. In comparison, guys at his position like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic hover around 30-31 percent from three-point land. When you see defenders guard those two, any time they hit them with a pump fake, as I’ve noted before, the defender goes up and touches the sky. Defenders will fly across the court on any pump-fake from three from both the Joker and Joel.
Reason being, teams are well aware they will take – and most importantly, make – three-point shots. LaMarcus must show off his three-point range more often because once defenders are aware that he can shoot a three, it will work wonders for getting cleaner looks for his underneath game.
I expect him to become a more consistent three-point shooter, and one that will take more three-point shots and make more at an efficient clip. That’s all I’d really want to see different from him and expect from him. At age 34, in his 14th season, he’s still producing at an All-Star level as an anchor for this team.
Next: Projections for 2019-20
Projections for 2019-20
My 2019-20 stat line projection for LaMarcus Aldridge is as follows:
18.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.6 blocks per game on 51.6 percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent shooting from three-point land.
In terms of his non-statistical projection, he looks better than last year – especially at the start. The entire team in my eyes, looks much better from the start of the season. This system will benefit every player in the group – from transition offense and defense, to the slow and methodical half-court offense, this team will be much more dynamic on both ends. For an aging player like Aldridge, that will really help elevate his game.
He could be a much better defensive player in terms of rebounding and blocks, especially since it’s now almost for certain he will get the bulk of starting center minutes. By the removal of Jakob Poeltl in the starting lineup, Aldridge will be looked at as more of a rebounder on both ends and a rim protector at many times during the season.
His role will expand a bit, more so defensively than offensively. Guarding those bigger bodies down low rather than the new “stretch-fours” of the NBA is a much more favorable matchup for LaMarcus. There’s still some bigs that can move around the floor, and shoot the three very well, but working in Aldridge’s favor is that he continues to become a much better play laterally since coming to San Antonio. As I’ve mentioned, his body has transformed. He’s a much lighter player and that will benefit him against the quicker centers in this league.
One thing going unnoticed is that he will also be called upon to set many more screens as the lone-big in the starting lineup.
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I project his three-point shot totals to finish around 140. I believe he’ll average about 1.7 three-point shots a game and make 50 three-point shots for the silver & black. You may ask, “How did I get to that number, percentage etc?” Well, looking deeper into his last season in Portland, he took 1.2 of 1.5 attempts from three by way of catch-and-shoot. He shot 36.4 percent off of catch-and-shoot three-point shots that season.
As mentioned earlier, Aldridge’s main way of shooting a three is off of catch-and-shoot, set shot three-pointers. I believe with the ball movement and the impact of adding two potential new players into the starting lineup, spacing will be very important for this Spurs group. If everything falls into place, LaMarcus will become an asset in that category.
I can see Aldridge taking a slight reduction in terms of minutes and points, but could be a little bit more efficient and show more attention to detail in relation to making that extra play. Whether it be an extra pass or coming up key in late-game (51.7 percent clutch field goal shooter) or crucial defensive scenarios, I think he really comes on stronger than years past.
Since this team is better, he won’t slip in the playoffs like there’s been before, opening up a lot for him in terms of his scoring at the basket. He’s going to be used much more in pick-and-roll and I really think he’s going to be in a role that suits him best in 2019.