San Antonio has to decide if its time to sit the 5-time all star.
Uncertainty: a feeling the San Antonio Spurs seem to never experience. And yet, here they are, down 1-0 after getting absolutely big dawged on their own floor by “The Beard” and the Houston Rockets.
When asked what happened, Greg Popovich, cold and blunt as ever, simply said “They won the game and we lost it.” Expressions of humiliation, embarrassment, and mere shock were common among Spurs players, with plenty more questions than answers.
In spite of it all, we are still talking about the fricken San Antonio Spurs, the most consistently dominant franchise in the league over the past 20 years. Don’t count them out yet. It’s just one game, and the Spurs are still led by one of the top three coaches ever and a dominant two-way demon from some other galaxy known as “The Klaw.” Kawhi Leonard’s home planet is unknown, but what is very well known is how filthy he is at both ends of the floor.
But someone needs to help this man (alien?) out. Where is the supporting cast on both ends of the floor? Tim Duncan is not walking through the door, and even if he was, it’d be a very slow walk with a slight limp. Did R.C Buford, one of the top executives in the whole league, really fail to build a strong roster around his transcendent franchise player?
While it’s unfair to question a guy who built a 61-win roster, it is more than fair to question the guy who’s suppose to be the Robin to Kawhi’s Batman: LaMarcus Aldridge. He has simply not lived up to that billing. He’s had one of the worst years of his career, but is being paid like a star. When he was off the court, the Spurs were 4.6 points per 100 possessions better during the regular season then when he played. His raw averages of 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds were the second lowest of his career, behind only his rookie season. While, for most players, those are good stats, Aldridge is being paid to put up GREAT stats, and make the Spurs better when he’s on the floor, not worse. What a concept!
But, as we all know, it’s not what happens in the regular season that matters, and the Spurs know this better than anyone having made 20 consecutive playoff appearances. How has LaMarcus fared during the playoffs? Not good.
If Aldridge can’t post up Ryan Anderson then it might be time for him to play in China.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 2, 2017
Couldn’t have said it better myself, Bill. In Game 1, LMA looked like a shell of a shell OF A SHELL (yes, that is three shells) of his former self. He couldn’t stop a nose bleed, was timid on offense, and seven steps slow in every aspect. It was painful to witness, to the point I had to take three Advil just so I could keep watching.
Count how many times Aldridge is scampering hopelessly to make a play on defense. Hint: It’s a lot. I also just took two more Advil.
But it was just one game, so no biggie, right?
WRONG! As a matter of fact, LaMarcus Aldridge has struggled mightily in the postseason throughout his whole career. In seven postseason appearances, Aldridge has only posted a WS/48 (Win Shares per 48 minutes, which estimates the number of wins a player contributes per 48 minutes played) above the league average once and has only posted a positive Box Plus/Minus (measures a player’s box score estimate of how many points per 100 possessions better he is than a league average player) once as well. In other words, he hasn’t helped his teams win in the playoffs — he’s actually hurt them.
However, as bad as he has been in the past, it has only been worse this time around. He is averaging only 13.3 points and 7.1 rebounds in seven games. I can promise you R.C. Buford and Pop did not envision such pedestrian numbers from LaMarcus Aldridge when they decided to pay him like a superstar. If they wanted a pedestrian postseason performer, they could’ve just signed Al-Farouq Aminu and gotten the 12 points and 5 rebounds a game he gave Portland this postseason for a quarter of the price. In LMA’s days as a Trailblazer, at least he got buckets in the playoffs, never averaging less than 19 points a game. The saddest part for the Spurs is… IT GETS WORSE.
LaMarcus has posted a 13.1 PER in seven postseason games, which is below the 15.0 benchmark for a league average player and easily the lowest of his postseason career. As I said before, he has a negative Box Plus Minus (-2.0 to be exact…Bad!) and a WS/48 of .063, which, again, is below the benchmark of 0.1 for a league average player. Furthermore, Aldridge has posted his lowest block percentage and usage rate in his entire postseason career, his lowest rebound percentage since 2010 with Portland when he did not need to rebound as much because he played power forward as opposed to center, and his highest turnover percentage since 2009. Last, but certainly not least, the Spurs have been 7.9 points per 100 possessions better with LaMarcus off the court then on. Ouch.
What do the Spurs do? Bench him? Pull an inside job and have him kidnapped? No. Not yet. Despite everything I just told you, it has still only been seven games, a sample size too small to justify exiling him from the rotation. The Spurs are not going to stop the Rockets on defense. No one has all season and it will not happen this series. Can they slow them down? They gave up 126 points in Game 1, and if they can get that down to about 110 per game, they’ll give themselves a chance.
Offensively, LaMarcus is one of the best one-on-one post scorers this league has to offer. The Rockets are weak inside. Feed the big fella and let that man operate! He has shown he’s capable; just last postseason he posted .223 WS/48 and a +1.8 Box Plus/Minus, easily the best of his postseason career and the only time he was above average in both categories. LMA also posted a 117 offensive rating, averaged a hair under 22 points per game, and reached a 52.7 effective field goal percentage. HE CAN DO IT! The Spurs need the LaMarcus of old, and have no choice at this time but to trust he can be just that.
While everything that’s happened this postseason indicates Pop should sit LMA down, it’s a tad too early to panic. If the results don’t favor the Spurs following Game 2, maybe then it is time to make a desperate move, as a 2-0 deficit heading to Houston would call for desperate measures. For now, step up LaMarcus. The Spurs need you more than ever.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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