LaMarcus Aldridge played well in his fifth year with the San Antonio Spurs but recent rumors have raised questions about his future with the team
In the age of hyper-athletic, game-breaking forwards, LaMarcus Aldridge is a walking time capsule. He’s not going to grab a rebound, take it from coast to coast, and give you a free-throw line jam but he will gradually back wear you down trough his deep bag of post and mid-range moves. As this season showed, his style of play can still be effective, but should it remain a tentpole of the San Antonio Spurs’ future?
Similar to DeMar DeRozan, evaluating Aldridge’s performance this year is a little tricky. Positional overlaps with young up and comers aren’t as much of a concern but the rest of the evaluation is relatively similar. Both are aging stars, depend heavily on methods of scoring that go against the grain of the NBA, and combined they were the reason the Spurs were even remotely close to sniffing the playoffs.
There wasn’t much surprise to go with Aldridge’s most recent season with the silver and black. He did about as well as you can hope for from a 34-year-old mid-range dependant player. He regressed but didn’t fall off a cliff in terms of production. His per-game averages of 18.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per night on 49 percent shooting was right in line with what we have seen from the big Texan over the course of his career.
However, the little pleasant surprise that Spurs fans did get turned out to be incredibly impactful. On December 23rd, 2019, in an otherwise meaningless road game against the Memphis Grizzlies, something beautiful happened. LaMarcus Aldridge, after many years of pleading from Spurs fans, finally started shooting three’s.
It didn’t seem like much at the time, his 3 for 5 performance from behind the arc was part of a great 40 point night for the big man in what was an eventual 30 point blowout, but it was the tip of something much more important. After that game Aldridge went on a tear from behind the arc, quickly becoming one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in the league for a stretch.
Aldridge was lights out from deep in the month of January, going 27 for 59 from behind the arc (46 percent) and giving the Spurs a much needed additional 3-point threat. His teammates immediately took notice, with Dejounte Murray applauding the big man for finally stepping behind the arc and DeMar DeRozan admitting that it made the game much easier for him.
Saying it made the game easier for DeRozan is an understatement. We’ve covered how the former Raptor put a greater emphasis on attacking the rim this year. That was made easier by Aldridge stepping out past the arc, and taking his defender with him. It’s no coincidence that DeRozan won his lone Western Conference Player of the Week award shortly after Aldridge started letting it go from deep.
While it was great to see Aldridge finally modernize his game, it’s almost too little too late for him. It did help the Spurs for a bit this year but doesn’t really move the needle on the team’s long term view. If anything it bumps up his trade value and makes him a more valuable trade piece for next year when he will be on an expiring deal.
His rebounding numbers did take a dip this year, at 7.4 per game they were just .9 rebounds down per night from his career averages. But with Murray’s return, along with the growth of Trey Lyles and Jakob Poeltl, that’s not a shock.
One area where Aldridge actually did take a noticeable step forward was in his rim protection. He was averaging the second-highest blocks per 100 possessions of his career and set a new career-high mark in total block percentage, sending back 4.4 percent of opponents’ attempts when he was on the floor. He helped solidify a back line that was one of the best in basketball, ranking 8th in total blocks.
He wasn’t alone either. Jakob Poeltl set career-high marks in blocks per game, block percentage, and blocks per 100 possessions as well. Trey Lyles got in on the action and posted some of the best defensive numbers of his career too. Were all of the Spurs forwards in the midst of a defensive surge or was there something else going on?
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Yes, many of the Spurs frontcourt members had a career or near career years on defense, but how would that have been impacted if San Antonio had been able to play an even passable group of perimeter defenders. How many of those wide-open drives that ended up as blocks wouldn’t have happened in the first place if an adequate defender had been on the floor? And how would that have impacted the overall block numbers for the three aforementioned players?
San Antonio regularly had two of the worst perimeter defenders in the league on the court at one time. That leads to quite a few wide-open drives, and rejected shots, over the course of the season.
So, credit to Aldridge and the rest for having near career-years in sending back shots, an impressive accomplishment to be sure. But more impressive in the sense that Aldridge was able to step up and fill an area of need, even as his athleticism declined when the circumstances called for it. Even in his older age, Aldridge is still proving that you can count on him when he’s needed most.
Altogether it was a good year from Aldridge. His production did decline, as it does as a player ages, but he still proved that he has gas left in the tank and can be a regular scoring option for the San Antonio Spurs. He stepped up when needed on defense and continues to be a pillar of the franchise.
He’s talked about ending his career with either the Spurs or Portland Trail Blazers and this season has proven that no matter who he ends it with, Aldridge will be a valuable and consistent contributor until his last days in the league.