Lamarcus Aldridge is quietly carrying the historically good San Antonio Spurs.
The All-Star Break has come and gone, but it seems like the same old story with the Spurs. They have the second best record in the NBA at 50-9, leading their division by 15 games, and sitting only four games behind Golden State for the league’s best record. After last year’s disappointing first round playoff exit, the Spurs seem primed for a deep post-season run behind their leader Kawhi Leonard. But beyond all the deserved attention given to Leonard, newcomer LaMarcus Aldridge is having one of the best seasons of his career.
Last summer, Aldridge signed with the Spurs for four years with a max contract worth over $80 million. After being the focal point of the offense for much of his career, he decided to leave Portland in hopes of winning his first championship. Many analysts predicted Aldridge would struggleto produce and were concerned with his ability to fit in with the pass-first Spurs offense. With over half a season in the books, Aldridge has proven this is not the case.
At face value, Aldridge’s stats are not overwhelming. His current per-game stats are 17 pts/8.4 rebs/1.5 asts. This is his lowest scoring output since his rookie season and his worst rebounding average since the 2011-2012 season. When diving deeper into his season numbers though, it can be seen that his drop in production is not due to him having a worse season.
Spurs have outscored opponents by 741 points this season, 2nd-best margin through 59 games in NBA history (1971-72 Bucks were +756)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 28, 2016
Spurs coach Greg Popovich is perhaps the NBA’s savviest when it comes to managing his players’ minutes. This year, Aldridge is averaging only 29.9 minutes, nearly six minutes less than his 2014-15 average and the lowest since his rookie season. On top of that, the Spur’s equal opportunity offense is designed to spread the scoring load so it is not overly dependent on a single player. With this taken into account, the best way to gauge Aldridge’s performance is on his offensive efficiency.
Aldridge is having one of the most efficient seasons of his 10-year career. He is shooting 50% from the field, the second highest of his career. During the first month of the season, he shot only 43.5% from the field. This makes sense though as it would take time for Aldridge to adjust to the new offensive system in San Antonio. Since finding niche in the offense, he has been on a tear, shooting 53.7% from field since December while increasing his shooting percentage each month.
Aldridge’s rebounding numbers have also been holding steady since making the jump to San Antonio. Although his season average is down from last year, this can be attributed to his drop in minutes. This can be seen by looking at his total rebound percentage, a number that shows the percentage of rebounds a player grabs when on the court. Aldridge’s has actually increased from 15.6% to 15.9%, a modest jump but impressive considering he shares much of his playing time with rebounding-specialist Tim Duncan.
Perhaps Aldridge’s most valuable trait this season is his defense. This year, San Antonio has a defensive rating of 95.7, meaning they give up 95.7 points every 100 possessions. When adjusting for league averages, this is one of the greatest marks of all time and four points better than the second place team in the league. Aldridge’s arrival has been a big part why.
Although much of the core of the Spurs is the same (Parker-Green-Leonard-Duncan), it is Aldridge’s athleticism that allows them to play at such a high level on defense. Aldridge’s quickness allows him to chase stretch fours around the court while the other Spurs do not have to worry about helping on defense. This allows the guards to remain on their match-ups on the perimeter and allows Duncan to protect the paint. Aldridge’s youth has been exactly what this veteran squad needed to take the next step on the defensive end of the court.
Aldridge has also proven that he can still carry the offensive load if the Spurs need him to. When Duncan went down with a knee injury late in January, Aldridge increased is production to help lead the team. He increased his scoring average to 22.4 points per game without sacrificing efficiency. The Spurs were able to win six of these eight games, with the only losses coming to conference leaders Golden State and Cleveland on the road.
LaMarcus Aldridge is quietly having one of the best seasons of his career. It is no coincidence the Spurs are having a fantastic season as well. Aldridge has been steadily improving his efficiency as he adjusts more to the Spurs offensive sets. Aldridge has been an anchor for them on both sides of the court. Come playoff time, nobody will want to face Aldridge and his San Antonio crew.
Edited by Ben Moore.
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