Just less than six months ago, Aldridge played a game so poor in Kawhi Leonard’s absence during the Western Conference Finals, that the big man was publicly and candidly criticized. This not only lead to finger-pointing within the San Antonio Spurs organization but very real rumours suggesting the former Portland Trail Balzer could be traded during the offseason.
But peak summer trading season came and went, and Aldridge was still with the Texan team. Had Gregg Popovich had a change of heart or had the once dominant 6ft 11in player improved during the offseason?
In mid-October, Aldridge inked a new three-year, $72 million extension, securing his place on the roster for years to come. Veteran coach Popovich reportedly had a ‘heart-to-heart’ with the player and mended any cracks in the relationship that had appeared during Aldridge’s testing campaign.
Popovich’s faith has paid off and now the five-time All-Star looks set his first appearance at the famed game in two years. Now averaging around 23 points and eight rebounds per game, the star is shining in Leonard’s absence, in stark contrast to what we saw last term and why many thought he was on the trade block. Not only this, but Aldridge is shooting 50.7 percent from the field, a productive, efficient increase from the dreary performances just a few months ago. Though the Golden State Warriors are still bookies favourites to lift another championship, Spurs remain tremendous value at +1200.00 when NBA betting on bet365 – especially interesting given they are missing their true superstar and Aldridge is in this sort of form.
However, could we see a dip in the Aldridge’s output once Leonard returns? A drastic decrease is unlikely, the Spurs are famous for their team-first fastball movement philosophy, so Leonard, undoubtedly one of the league’s best, returning to the starting five should only make Aldridge and everyone around him better.
A native Texan, Aldridge cut a lonely figure at All-Star weekend in 2016, snapping his streak of consecutive All-Star starting berths at the center spot, while fellow big men like Los Angeles Clipper DeAndre Jordan and Memphis’ superb Spaniard Marc Gasol played in the New Orleans festival of basketball.
Aldridge knew that when he joined San Antonio, he would be sacrificing individual acclaim, it’s the Spurs way and that wasn’t going to change, but the notion of his days as an All-Star starter being over certainly were not even thought be the most pessimistic fan. But this is how the Spurs win games and championships, everyone gives everything for the cause – and it hasn’t worked out too bad so far.
San Antonio remain faithful to their principles and Aldridge is finally finding his place amongst the team. With the side flying in the Western Conference and Leonard due to return in the coming weeks, Popovich’s well-drilled players could mount a realistic challenge to Golden State.
Aldridge is experiencing a renaissance in Texas, the Dallas born player continues to shine as the team’s leader while Leonard recovers. By focusing on his key skillset, rather trying to mould him into a typical modern center, Popovich has reignited Aldridge’s game.