Have the San Antonio Spurs outgrown their need for LaMarcus Aldridge?
While potential Hall of Famer LaMarcus Aldridge has been wonderful in his stint with the San Antonio Spurs, the team may have outgrown their need for him.
Throughout his career, San Antonio Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge has been one of the most perennial overlooked and undervalued players in the NBA. Even this season, which he didn’t get to finish due to shoulder surgery, Aldridge managed to post a career-high 1.6 blocks per game on a career-best 53.2 effective field goal percentage.
Aldridge has aged like fine wine, remaining durable for the most part and transforming to the needs of his team. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the Spurs need him to be that guy anymore and might be better off distributing his minutes elsewhere.
Asked how Aldridge will fit in next season, DeRozan said: "LaMarcus is a dominant player in today’s league. He has shown it over and over. Just to have these guys develop under these circumstances, can’t do nothing but add to the fold once we all get back together healthy."
— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) August 14, 2020
San Antonio picked up the pace with Aldridge out of the lineup in Orlando. With LaMarcus out of the rotation, the Spurs’ plethora of young guards and wings run wild, pushing the tempo and moving the ball up and down the court with exceptional speed. Their average pace was 105.5 during their eight seeding games, which is up from 101.14 on the season and a team-low 99.82 with Aldridge on the court this season.
Even though they didn’t have that go-to scorer at the five, they made up for it with the influential defense provided by center Jakob Poeltl. Putting the three young guards at positions 1-through-3 helped San Antonio discover its identity and a power forward/center lineup with both DeRozan and Aldridge isn’t likely to produce the same results.
That leaves an important question for the silver and black: Should they look to trade him this offseason?
Next: Clashing playstyles emerge
If history is any indicator, Aldridge is disengaged when he’s not being prioritized.
Letting the young guns loose in the Orlando restart isn’t just a one-time deal — It’s indicative of the Spurs’ future. San Antonio had the fourth-best Net Rating in the Orlando restart with their unconventional lineup, leading to a 5-3 record that put them amongst the best in the bubble. To keep that rolling, Aldridge needs to take a step back and I’m not sure he’d be so willing.
The last time that Aldridge was asked to take a step back in a lesser role, he requested a trade. Part of the reason he left Portland was that he was forced to take a backseat to Damian Lillard and when he wasn’t prioritized next to Kawhi Leonard, he took offense. I’m not saying that’s sure to be the case as the 35-year-old may be more inclined to take a lesser role, but he may not like the idea of letting Poeltl take more of his minutes.
Aldridge finished four-tenths of a shot attempt behind DeMar DeRozan for the most field goal attempts per game in San Antonio this year. DeRozan took a step back for the betterment of the young guns in Orlando, prioritizing their growth and development over his own game. Now’s the time to see whether or not Aldridge is willing to do the same at this late stage in his career.
San Antonio was 9.6 points per 100 possessions better with Jakob Poeltl on the floor this season. LaMarcus’ -5.3 point differential indicates that having him on the floor didn’t necessarily make them better. This isn’t meant to take away from Aldridge’s talent or skill, but he doesn’t make all too much sense for this team anymore.
If Aldridge isn’t willing or ready to take a step back in favor of the young players, he may not be a fit for this group anymore.
Next: Clashing philosophies in the frontcourt
Getting the ball out of Aldridge’s hands is better for the Spurs’ future.
Watching Aldridge dominate the low block as one of the league’s premier post talents is an absolute joy — Especially for fans who appreciate the traditional game. However, the core of this team is transforming and there’s not much room left for Aldridge to be their go-to scorer anymore.
Something tells me that swapping roles with Poeltl and being the backup big isn’t something Aldridge would be fond of. He has a ton of gas left in the tank, but it doesn’t make sense for the Spurs to give him those touches. Putting Poeltl’s fresh legs on the court helps the Spurs move in transition, attack the offensive glass and let the young guards get their shots off.
Poeltl and Eubanks deserve incredible props for their defense and rebounding tonight. pic.twitter.com/IHExylX0Oz
— Boston Celtics ⚪️ (@spurs_legacy) August 9, 2020
A fast-paced, perimeter-oriented offense needs a big man who can handle DHOs and Poeltl is that guy. Aldridge isn’t necessarily a bad passer as his vision from the post has improved dramatically in recent years, but he’s also not a true playmaker. Poeltl is unselfish with amazing vision while providing great energy 100 percent of his time on the court.
The same can be said for two-way center Drew Eubanks, who brings a ton of energy to the table. He’s active on defense with a higher tolerance for switching on defense, which the Spurs cannot rely on when playing the sedate Aldridge. While LaMarcus generates extra looks, the volume he takes up on offense doesn’t help to prioritize the team’s new style of play.
Unless he makes major changes to his playstyle, Aldridge won’t be able to keep up with his teammates.
Next: How to make it work
Drawing examples from other teams for how to make it work in San Antonio.
There are two players that the Spurs and Aldridge can draw inspiration from in finding his new role with this team. The first is former All-Star Marc Gasol, who was traded to the Toronto Raptors in a contract-year and played a major role in their title run. While Gasol was used to being the top guy in Memphis, he took on a new role and a step back in Toronto.
This season, Gasol played 26.4 minutes per game in Toronto and had one of the team’s best on/off-court differentials. His low-usage role saw him log 92 percent of his minutes at the center and serve as a veteran leader off the bench. Some nights, they’d rely on him to take a scoring load. In others, he’d take a step back, fill in where he can and serve as a spot-up shooter. Instead of throwing a fit and being upset about his role, Gasol took it in stride and left his ego at the door.
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If Aldridge can accept a reduced role and prioritize his team over his stats, he can help the Spurs return to the playoffs better than ever.
Another guy to look at is Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez. A post player by nature, Lopez is now one of the league’s most influential floor spacers. Like Aldridge, he was known for his mid-range jump shot and prolific post-game. Now, Lopez is primarily a spot-up floor spacer and one of the most dominant rim defenders in the NBA.
Prioritizing shooting and defense is going to vastly improve Aldridge’s durability late in his career. When you’re not constantly banging bodies down low and don’t have to impose yourself physically, it takes a lot of pressure off the body.
Aldridge loves to shoot those jumpers and the Spurs aren’t going to ask him to stop that, but his volume and role might need to change for the betterment of San Antonio’s ballclub.