Former All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge changed his game for the San Antonio Spurs. Now it’s up to him to sustain this elite level of shooting next year.
Of every asinine, uncommon and unexpected thing to happen in the year 2020, getting LaMarcus Aldridge to become a volume 3-point shooter was near the bottom of anticipated events. It slotted in before ‘global pandemic,’ after ‘San Antonio Spurs missing the playoffs’ and right next to ‘murder hornets’ on the list. Yet, here we are with all of the events above coinciding in this firestorm of a year.
While most of this year’s events have sucked, Aldridge shooting threes is a positive development for the San Antonio Spurs’ outlook. We’ve all known that Aldridge was capable of it — He’s one of the best mid-range shooters I’ve ever seen in my life. All he needed to do was step back a few feet and let go of his disdain for playing basketball in the 2020s instead of the 1980s.
Seriously though, LaMarcus is a really good 3-point shooter these days. The veteran hit 61 -of-157 attempts at 38.9 percent from 3-point range. The durable post-fade savant appeared in his fewest games in a single season of his entire career this year and still managed to take 52 more triples than he did in his previous career-best 3-point season.
For a team that finished its season seven games below .500, every win counts and for what it’s worth, the San Antonio Spurs had a winning record when Aldridge took at least 3 triples. Not by a wide margin, winning 15-of-28 games in which he took three or more shots from deep, but it’s something significant to take note of. As a matter of fact, they were 5-16 when he didn’t take more than one 3-pointer in a game he appeared in during the 2019-20 season.
Obviously, three is more than two, but there’s a significant argument to be made that 3-pointers are more valuable than 2-point field goals overall. It’s why teams like the Houston Rockets clamor for 3-point shooters to facilitate their entire offense — Numbers tell them it’s the right decision to make. That isn’t true without context, because someone as talented at mid-range shooting as Aldridge should continue to take them, but he needs to sprinkle in some threes as well.
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San Antonio’s offense is drastically different when Aldridge is stretching the floor. It allows more room for the team’s array of slashers to get to the paint and finish or kick out for a good looking jumper. It also effectively takes the ball out of Aldridge’s hands without relegating him to a less important role within the offense. For a team that’s trending younger and more perimeter-oriented, the iso-heavy veteran big man only took 1.3 fewer shots per game this season and still managed to post 18.9 points per game on the year.
The fact of the matter is that Aldridge is 35-years-old on the final year of his contract with the team. I’d expect the San Antonio Spurs to keep him around next season and potentially beyond that in a reduced capacity, but he cannot be the focal point of the team anymore. This makes his transition into a reliable 3-point shooter crucial to his ability to remain effective in the latter stages of his potential Hall of Fame career.
From a personal standpoint, shooting is going to extend Aldridge’s career. If he wants to leave San Antonio in free agency and pursue a championship in the final years of his career elsewhere, he can do so if he’s going to stretch the floor. So long as they can make the finances work, any contending team would be happy to have Aldridge if he can hit the 3-ball like he did this year.
Old habits die hard, but Aldridge’s newfound knack for hitting threes is better for the tail end of his career and the San Antonio Spurs’ hopes of retooling on the fly with him on the roster.