One major selling point that helps the San Antonio Spurs acquire veteran talent is their knack for helping players age gracefully. Beyond the Spurs’ beloved ‘Big Three,’ many of the veteran Spurs over the years have accepted lesser roles to elongate their careers and contribute to winning basketball.
It’s not easy to ask a successful veteran to take a step back but it’s a crossroads that every player eventually comes to. Now the time has finally come for former All-NBA big man LaMarcus Aldridge to accept the changing tides of Spurs basketball and settle into a bench role.
Can a change for LaMarcus Aldridge ultimately help the San Antonio Spurs?
Aldridge has struggled mightily since being benched for center Jakob Poeltl, who drastically improves the Spurs’ defense and allows for more shots from perimeter players. In three games, Aldridge is shooting 37.5 percent from the field in 21.4 minutes per game — A number that’s likely to fluctuate based on matchups and game script.
Clearly, Aldridge is facing a learning curve in his move to the bench. For 13 seasons, Aldridge started in every game that he participated in. The last time he came off the bench was in his rookie season in Portland, when he started 22-of-63 games. The seven-time All-Star has averaged 35.2 minutes per game in that 13-year span compared with his 25.9 minutes per game this season.
Aldridge himself acknowledged that this transition is a difficult one. While speaking with seasoned beat reported Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News, he was open about the learning curve he’s facing.
“I’m still trying to figure it out; how to be ready to go,” Aldridge said. “It’s definitely a different task coming off the bench and not having the first few minutes to get loose and kinda find a rhythm. I’m still figuring it out. It wasn’t perfect tonight and I don’t think it’s going to be perfect for a while.”
Clearly, this is a big change for the future hall of fame candidate, but it’s not necessarily going to be a bad thing. By accepting their bench roles, veterans Rudy Gay and Patty Mills have learned to become better overall contributors for the silver and black. This was the case for many of the veterans who’ve come into their own in San Antonio — Even Tony Parker relegated his starting position to Dejounte Murray at one point.
There’s strong historical precedence for head coach and basketball genius Gregg Popovich to bench his players when the time comes. Most take it in stride, but we don’t quite know what this means for LaMarcus in particular.
Though he’s adjusted masterfully through all of the turbulence thrown in his direction during his years in San Antonio this may be more of a shot to his ego than other sacrifices and adjustments he’s been asked to make for the silver and black.
LaMarcus Aldridge post-ups per game as a starter: 3.5 per game
In 2 games off the bench: 6 per game
Still a small sample size, but he's getting more chances to post off the bench and with that, more attempts at the free throw line.
— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) February 28, 2021
Being part of the San Antonio Spurs means committing to unselfishness and for Aldridge, that doesn’t always come easily. He’s a score-first player — always has been and always will be. Going up against second units is going to allow him to extend his career and torch teams during the moments when Poeltl is resting or in foul trouble, which happens frequently.
Aldridge’s adjustment process may be the ultimate difference between him finishing his career in silver and black or finding a new home in free agency. If this situation becomes too unbearable for the vet, who still has plenty of gas left in the tank, he may gently request for a trade in the coming weeks. San Antonio would be likely to grant his wish if the right opportunity arises, but it’d be an abrupt end to what’s otherwise been an incredible career with the San Antonio Spurs organization.
Tim Duncan and David Robinson never got benched, but they each had established themselves as the greatest player in franchise history at the times they retired. Aldridge deserves a ton of respect, but the young core is growing up as he grows old, and now is the time to get ready for the next phase of Spurs basketball.
Can Aldridge accept that Father Time is catching up to him or will he rebel against the team for placing him in the second unit? The coming weeks should create a clearer picture about where he stands and what he’s willing to sacrifice to watch this team improve.