DeAndre Jordan and his kidnapping and/or decision-changing may have been the most movie-like storyline of the NBA offseason, but potentially the most important story was LaMarcus Aldridge spurning the Trail Blazers and Lakers in favor of the less flashy, yet championship ready San Antonio Spurs for $84 million spread over 4 years.
The move on paper sounds sexy, as the Spurs were already amongst the NBA’s elite with veteran presences like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker mixing alongside the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. If you add the 20-and-10 presence of Aldridge as well as shockingly signing veteran stud David West to the mix, you would seem to have a formula that equals out to one final answer- The NBA Finals baby.
But you mess with the perfection that is the Spurs in a drastic way and there are almost certain to be concerns.
For one, both Aldridge and longtime face of the Spurs Tim Duncan have similar games. They have range that occasionally can stretch out to the 3-point line, but for the most part want to hit mid-range jumpers and get to the basket when they can on cuts and off ball screens. Of course, the younger Aldridge can still get to the rim off of isolation plays and to a lesser extent, so can Duncan, but these are two guys that have no problem with turning around to hit a jumper in your face. That isn’t really a problem until you realize that they each like to go to work on the left side of the basket, with Duncan shooting 25% of his total shots from the side last season and Aldridge going double that at 50%.
It’s still early, but the two have already made changes to where they get their buckets. The ultimate team-first player that is Tim Duncan has made the move and is now ranging out, evening out his increasingly rare shots across the floor. Aldridge is reflecting Duncan’s change in offensive philosophy, shooting only about 30% of his shots from the left side now, a steep drop from his shot selection last year.
Okay, so Aldridge and Duncan are each changing their respective games to compliment the other. We expected that. Maybe not to the extent that we’ve gotten this early in the season, but okay. What’s really been impressive about San Antonio early on has been how successful they’ve been.
Despite the additions the team made in free agency, the Spurs are off to a 6-2 start and have the seventh best offense in the league along with the third ranked defense. The success of Aldridge and Duncan reflect how good the Spurs have been, and these two may just be getting started.
Combined, the Spurs frontcourt is shooting a very respectable 48%. What’s really impressive is their success at the basket, where LMA and Duncan are cleaning up with 74% on field goals. Essentially, this high field goal percentage (in comparison, the Hawks front court of Paul Millsap and Al Horford are shooting 67% at the basket, while Kevin Love and Timofey Mozgov are at 53% for the Cavaliers) means the two are working off each other and getting easy looks, with a majority of their shots at the rim having less than 2 seconds of touch time between them.
What’s scary though, is that these two have yet to lock down their mid-range games. They’re combining for just 37% in that area, and with Popovich leaning on the two-ball early on this season, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Aldridge and Duncan will eventually work out a better plan for their in-between games. For instance, I’d really like to see if Aldridge could handle getting a screen from Duncan off the baseline, then getting the option of either taking on the Duncan defender, who will likely be slower than he is, or dish it off to Tim and see what the veteran can do.
While the offense still has some work to do, the Spurs new defense is looking quite impressive with Aldridge and Duncan manning the frontcourt. The two have held offenses to just 52% shooting at the rim, an impressive mark considering one of these two has been playing in the league since the beginning of time. But they’ve also been excellent away from the rim on defense, holding opponents to 28% shooting from behind the arc and a truly impressive 35% from the midrange.
While the similarities between Aldridge and Duncan on offense can occasionally lead to some awkward moments, their similarities on defense can actually be strengths. The two can easily switch assignments if needed, with Aldridge being able to be both the point man as well as help man because of his youth and athleticism.
The Spurs are still just beginning this new era of their franchise and it’ll be months before we see anything resembling a final project, but thus far, the LaMarcus Aldridge-era in San Antonio is off to a smashing start thanks to how willing LMA has been to change. We all knew he would have to switch his game to accompany the Spurs team-first style, but how quickly and seamlessly he’s done it has been a shocker to many.
Like I said, this is still an early product and you’d like to see Aldridge improve his offensive numbers a bit, as well as finding his jumpsuit alongside Duncan, but just 8 games into the season and it’s clear to see that the Spurs are going to be quite good for quite long as long as Aldridge is around.
All statistics and shot charts courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball-Reference.com, and ShotAnalytics.com
You can follow Sean Linhares on Twitter @LINhares_Sanity