Jan 6, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs center LaMarcus Aldridge (12) warms up past San Antonio Spurs assistant coach and former player Tim Duncan at AT&T Center. (Stephen Spillman-USA TODAY Sports)
A national audience looks at LaMarcus Aldridge as an ancillary piece to a playoff team, which underrates the San Antonio Spurs big’s impact.
Brace yourself because the offseason has arrived and national media is here to discredit the value that San Antonio Spurs players bring to the table. No single player has been more overlooked than veteran big man LaMarcus Aldridge, whose resume sneakily inserts him to Hall of Fame conversations. If he can win a ring before his career comes to an end, that case will be magnified significantly.
Aldridge played a career-low 53 games in the 2019-20 NBA season as a result of season-ending shoulder surgery. His durability isn’t in question — Aldridge took the corrective surgery in stride. The shortened season and impromptu hiatus changed LaMarcus’ perspective. His operation easily could’ve been postponed for a later date, but with only eight seeding games to turn around an entire season, Aldridge took the safer road and prioritized his longevity.
"He's one of the best low-post players in the league. It’s a dying breed.” – Steve Kerr
HBD 7 x All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge!LeBron, Melo & Pau are the only active players with more 2PT FGS. pic.twitter.com/PxTdlB4VMS
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) July 19, 2020
Not only did he transform his offensive game, but LaMarcus is playing some of his best defense from the center position. He’s taking a page out of Tim Duncan’s book by learning to transition into a full-time center with improved rim protection and physicality under the rim. Through his shortened season, Aldridge blocked 1.6 shots per game and posted his highest blocks per 100 possessions since his rookie year.
Constantly overlooked, Aldridge’s name has been tossed around in trade conversations with various teams. Most of them are unsubstantiated to this point with no official reporting being done, but it’d make sense for the San Antonio Spurs to dangle his name in trade talks.
Next: Aldridge is modernizing his game
Feb 11, 2020; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (right) shoots against Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (left) at Chesapeake Energy Arena. (Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports)
The San Antonio Spurs have benefitted from Aldridge’s advancing offense.
Getting with the times has been a struggle for Aldridge but this season, it finally clicked. At a certain point, the 14-year veteran realized that he needed to begin spotting up from deep to be a more effective part of the San Antonio Spurs’ offense. He’s still as reliable as they come from the mid-range and in the paint, but he’s learning to adapt to his surroundings in San Antonio.
For example, Aldridge was fantastic in the pick-and-pop this year except now, he’s stepping beyond the 3-point line for those open looks. The veteran big man hit 38 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples this year and 43.8 percent on his 16 pull-up triples. Simply put, Aldridge is acclimating to the modern game by stepping outside the 3-point line to space the floor.
Some may see Aldridge hitting threes as a sign of improvement for him as a player but quite frankly, this isn’t going to change his statistical output. Instead, it makes the rest of the team operate a bit easier. Having Aldridge as a kick-out option for the Spurs’ slashers has been transformative, leading to the team’s second-highest offensive rating in franchise history at 112.4.
Beyond that, Aldridge does all of the little things to help his team succeed. One of the best screen setters in football, Aldridge catches opponents off guard with back screens to set up easier buckets for his teammates. Ultimately, this is a veteran leader who knows what it takes to contribute to a winning scenario. For some contender out there, he may be the missing piece in taking a step toward that title. For the San Antonio Spurs, he’s as reliable as they come.
Next: Aldridge is not the same defender he once was
Nov 29, 2019; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs center LaMarcus Aldridge (12) blocks a shot by LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the first half at the AT&T Center. (Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports)
Aldridge has become a strong rim protector for the San Antonio Spurs.
Believe it or not, the offensive juggernaut that is LaMarcus Aldridge has actually become a pretty solid rim protector. Using his stout frame and tricky footwork, Aldridge surveys the paint and finds creative angles to pin shots at the basket. He’s never been much of a vertical athlete, relying more so on size and strength to make his impact. Rotating near the basket is a skill that he’s improved on with each passing season in silver and black.
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While San Antonio may not have the personnel to make the best use of him, another prospective team might. Groups with athletic, defensive-minded players at the power forward position could take care of the “switchability” that most teams desire these days. For younger teams that deploy players of the sort, like Atlanta with John Collins or Toronto with Pascal Siakam, Aldridge could provide veteran leadership and two-way effort.
Aldridge also has a strong affinity for stripping the ball from players attempting to attack the basket, which is an underrated but important way to make a defensive impact. Most of the time, a strip will negate a shot attempt while forcing a turnover. While he’s not the best at jumping into passing lanes, he positions his body so that ball-handlers can’t force entry-passes to other bigs.
Veteran savvy goes a long way in this league and Aldridge has it in boatloads. These are the types of skills that go unnoticed and unrecognized today in favor of more flashy and analytic-friendly options. However, there will always be a place for smart players like Aldridge.
Whether he’s with the San Antonio Spurs or not, Aldridge will continue making plays on both sides of the floor for the duration of his career.