As the San Antonio Spurs go through training camp they will nail down who will be in the starting lineup on opening night. Could Jakob Poeltl and LaMarcus Aldridge be a dominant post-pairing for the Spurs?
The San Antonio Spurs have never been afraid to zig when the rest of the league is zagging. Last year, when most teams were focusing on putting up more three’s than ever, San Antonio went the opposite direction. Despite being the most accurate three-point shooting team in the league they opted to get most of their points from their two mid-range stars.
As the 2019 NBA season approaches, could we see Gregg Popovich and company defy league norms again and err away from pairing their All-Star big man, LaMarcus Aldridge, with a stretch four? Would they be better off pairing him with the promising third-year center, Jakob Poeltl?
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that we’ve seent the two start alongside one another. Poeltl and Aldridge started multiples games together throughout the season and all of the first-round playoff games against the Denver Nuggets.
That first-round series against the Nuggets gave us a view of the positive aspects of the Poeltl-Aldridge pairing. Poeltl was able to spend most of his energy on guarding the Nuggets big man, Nikola Jokic, allowing Aldridge to focus on scoring the basketball. The result wasn’t the one that Spurs fans hoped for but there were valuable takeaways.
However, the Spurs added some key pieces over the summer and are getting their point guard of the future back. The return of Dejounte Murray and the addition of DeMarre Carroll gives San Antonio multiple viable starting lineups. And as great of an impact as Poeltl could have in the starting lineup, other players would be better off taking that spot.
Between Murray, Lonnie Walker, DeMar DeRozan, and Derrick White, the Spurs have plenty of players who would prefer to attack the rim rather than shoot from deep. To do that effectively, they will need open driving lanes. And those won’t come around if Poeltl and Aldridge are clogging the paint.
Poeltl doesn’t have much of an offensive game outside of the paint and Aldridge has shown a reluctance to shoot the three. That could change this year, as Aldridge told Paul Garcia of Project Spurs that more three’s could be in the cards this year.
“I mean everyone wants to know that, that’s like the biggest question. I shot them last year, just not as much, but we’ll see.”
Until the three’s start flying I don’t know if San Antonio can start Poeltl and Aldridge, knowing what it will do to the spacing. There’s also their overall net rating. Poeltl and Aldridge were a -7.7 in their time on the floor together. Now, the two will have had a full summer and training camp to work together so they should have a better idea of how to play in sync with one another. And that number does come from a relatively small sample size of 327 minutes. But still, a -7.7 net rating together is not what you want in your starting lineup.
The Spurs would be better off starting one of Rudy Gay or Carroll alongside Aldridge. Either one of those players would give them greater versatility, three-point shooting, an ability to push the pace, and greater driving lanes for their guards.
As to exactly which one of Gay or Carroll starts with Aldridge, there are pros and cons to both. Gay is the better three-point shooter and overall offensive player. Carroll certainly has the edge on the defensive floor. Both have their strengths, it comes down to what Pop wants out of his starting lineup.
There will be times where it makes sense to call upon Poeltl to start with LaMarcus. When facing off against dominant big man pairings like the Nuggets Jokic and Paul Millsap or the duo of Joel Embiid and Al Horford it would benefit the Spurs to have to solid bigs of their own to counter with.
Poeltl has shown promise since entering the league back in 2016. If he continues to grow as a defender and rebounder he could be Spurs’ future starting center. But that’s for the future. Right now he can best help the team by adding a spark off the bench or starting situationally when called upon.