San Antonio Spurs: Sending LaMarcus Aldridge back to Portland could help long-term
By Damien Bartonek
After the San Antonio Spurs’ uncharacteristic slow start, trade rumors have been swirling involving star big-man LaMarcus Aldridge.
Through the first month of the season, it is fair to say San Antonio Spurs could hardly have started worse. An offseason full of hype and potential has seemingly been shut down as the Spurs are one of the worst defensive teams in all the NBA with a record well below the .500 mark.
With the multitude of media members befuddled as to why the Spurs haven’t made a move and the arsenal of Spurs Twitter hate that seemingly grows as the minutes tick off the clock, San Antonio has a decision to make.
While San Antonio has made fewer trades this decade than you have fingers, going against their usual grain might be the only way to salvage their season or potentially help build for the future.
Which leads me to LaMarcus Aldridge. There’s no secret the Spurs big-man is open to a return to Portland. He’s talked about it in the past and there’s a chance that a solid return could be put together for the former Trail Blazers star. If the Spurs are looking for a low-risk trade option that could potentially give them solid return for their All-Star big, calling Portland and gauging interest wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Next: Why trade LaMarcus?
Why trade LaMarcus?
I’m not vouching or screaming for Aldridge to be traded. I don’t want him gone. But, with the talent on the roster and the playstyles you have at hand, I believe facilitating a trade where you get help in areas of need and potentially 27 million in cap space after this season, could be well worth it.
The duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan has not worked whatsoever this season. Using the eye test, the Spurs’ offense tends to become stagnant and cluttered in the half-court, with what’s becoming to be less and less ball movement.
San Antonio has always been known for their ball movement, but as a team, they are 22nd in the league in passes per game. While the duo has had their share of moments in pick and pop sequences and efficient play, this season has been the exact opposite.
Players like DeRozan, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White benefit from playstyles like that of Jakob Poeltl rather than Aldridge on the offensive end. Jakob’s rim-running and effectiveness in the pick-and-roll benefit the offense not only in terms of efficiency but also in the fluidity of the offense. Having a big that matches up better on both ends of the floor and isn’t a high usage player on offense can help this team mightily.
For context, Jakob Poeltl is in the top eight in terms of field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage and points per possession when it comes to pick-and-roll stats according to NBA.com. The Spurs have two guys in the top 10 in points per possession as a ball-handler in the pick and roll in Rudy Gay and D-White.
That is why a lot of Jakob’s minutes come with Rudy and Derrick. LaMarcus, on the other hand, despite scoring the fifth-most points as a roll man, doesn’t rank in the top 100 in terms of field goal percentage, effective field-goal percentage or points per possession, according to NBA.com.
Defensively, any lineup that includes three of Patty, Marco, Bryn, LaMarcus and DeMar is one of the worst defensive lineups in the league. Guys that I listed above, on a good defensive team, should be your worst defenders on the floor. San Antonio always gets caught having two or three on the court on nearly every trip on the hardwood, which helps explain why the Spurs have been putrid on defense.
While Aldridge isn’t the sole reason for the Spurs’ horrendous defense, his inability to be versatile as a defender leaves the Spurs at a disadvantage on that end. Follow that with not being a stout defensive anchor or rim protector, the Spurs have a huge area of need from their bigs while on the court.
With the Spurs trading for Poeltl last summer drafting Luka Samanic at No.19, the Spurs have a couple of young big-men who fit more of the modern-day big man builds you need for this era. With Poeltl becoming a restricted free-agent come 2021, and with every analytical stat proving that the Spurs are a better team with Big Jak on the floor, the Spurs would be smart to keep the 7-footer as he enters the early stages of his prime.
Meanwhile, Samanic is tearing it up in the G-League. He’s averaging 15 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists on shooting splits of 48-37-73. He fits the more modern-day forward that would pair perfectly with Poeltl. After this season, the Spurs will be looking to give the Croatian KD some opportunities.
Lastly, LaMarcus while having three games of over thirty points this season, has also had three games of nine or fewer points. He’s had six games where he’s shot forty percent or lower. Through nearly twenty contests this season, he has recorded only two double-doubles. Aldridge has been inconsistent on offense, to say the least.
While being one of the best mid-range scorers of his era, he has struggled to find any sort of rhythm for an extended period.
Next: The Trade
The toughest thing about trading LaMarcus back to Portland has to be making the money work. A straight-up swap of Hassan Whiteside and LaMarcus isn’t nearly enough in terms of compensation but also in how effective the compensation could be long term. Meaning, Whiteside is in a contract year, and with a weak free-agent class of 2020, he could be in for a huge payday.
The Spurs can use this opportunity to spring open some minutes for other guys, considering they have an abundance of guards who have proven to be what they are at this stage of their careers and the way the current season has gone
Portland needs scoring, especially two-point scoring. Rip City ranks 23rd in two-point field goal percentage, 22nd in field-goal percentage, while also ranking 14th in offensive efficiency. After signing Carmelo Anthony, the Blazers’ offense needs juice, and LaMarcus Aldridge can come in and provide some
This deal benefits both parties. Hassan is better in the pick & roll than Aldridge. He has a higher scoring frequency than LaMarcus as well as both better field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage as the roll man. Whiteside has also posted better offensive and defensive ratings this season than LaMarcus has.
Whiteside has proven to be a dominant rebounder throughout his career. He’s averaging 12 rebounds a game this season in under 28 minutes a night, with nine double-doubles through 15 starts. His defensive ability has fallen off a bit since his All-Defensive nod back in 2016, but at times Hassan can be seen to be a stout rim protector.
The first-round pick is included to provide some sort of insurance because there’s a high probability that Whiteside would be a 60 game rental on the season. With little to no chance of keeping him past 2019-2020, the only way this deal gets done is if a pick is included.
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For the Blazers, they get the player their offense needs. When Jusuf Nurkic comes back, the Blazers could pair him with Aldridge for a dominant one-two punch down low. Additionally, having LaMarcus available would allow Portland to bring Nurkic back slowly. His injury is not one that players recover from easily and it could take him a while to get his legs back underneath him.
Nurkic has proven to be a relatively versatile defender for his size. Adding another big who can shoulder a little defensive load, but provide much-needed offense from the mid-range would only benefit Portland. The Blazers run a lot of pick and roll in their offense and use their bigs a lot in terms of being a ball-handler at the elbow off of short-roll opportunities. Inserting LaMarcus in that spot could help this team out immensely.
The Spurs would include Marco as somewhat of a filler in the deal, as the veteran has had a down year, to say the least. Portland could use his shooting, and there won’t be much pressure on Beli due to him likely being the 9th or 10th man on the rotation. With him coming in and playing when needed, Marco can also benefit from the variety of fake flare screens that transition into stop and go backdoor cut. He hasn’t been shooting great is still a somewhat effective slasher.
Lastly, sending Marco to Portland opens up much needed minutes for San Antonio’s younger players. The Spurs could use up the 18 minutes Marco was getting a night, and transition it into more minutes for guys like DeMarre Carroll, Lonnie Walker, and others.
I don’t want LaMarcus gone, but if the season becomes lost, at least send him back to the place he once called home.