When LaMarcus Aldridge joined the San Antonio Spurs in the summer of 2015, it was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, free agent signings the Spurs had ever made. Aldridge had watched the Spurs’ style of play and tried to fit himself in from the start. He would share the ball often in an attempt to match the Spurs’ pass-heavy style of play and started the 2015-2016 season with lower scoring than his usual output with the Portland Trail Blazers. As the season progressed, Aldridge was able to find his spots in the offense, culminating in another all-star appearance and scoring 79 points in the first two playoff games against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
This season started somewhat similar to last. Aldridge’s scoring was down compared to his career average and he saw a dip in his usage rate as well. Much of this can be attributed to the Spurs fitting Pau Gasol into the starting front court and Kawhi Leonard’s phenomenal season. Over the past month or so though, similar to last season, Aldridge’s numbers have been rising.
Aldridge is scoring 17.8 points per game this season, but that number is a higher 21.1 points per game in January. He’s been efficient too, making 29.7% of the Spurs’ field goals while he is on the court, while only attempting 25.5% of them. Last season, Aldridge did not make a single three during the regular season. This month, he has already hit 5. That number may seem small at first, but it is only 4 less than Patty Mills on 18 less attempts. While Aldridge does not attempt many threes, his accuracy in shooting from behind the arc as of late means that defenders have to respect him when he is on the perimeter and they can’t sag off of him to double the ball handler when he is the big man in a pick-and-pop.
Throughout January, Aldridge has also been efficient to close out games as well. He has had the best field goal percentage of all starters in the second halves of games at 60.9%. Pau Gasol has the second highest field goal percentage of all starters in the second half during January at 50.0% on less than half as many attempts as Aldridge. He has been solid defensively in the second halves of games all season long as well, holding opponents to 46.3% on field goals they attempt within 6 feet of the basket, with Aldridge as the primary defender. To add some perspective, Aldridge is scoring on 59.4% of shots that meet the same criteria.
Aldridge’s increased production is big for the Spurs, as Leonard and Aldridge provide the Spurs with a nice one-two punch when they are both going offensively. With the big story as of late being Leonard’s four games in a row of 30 points or more scoring, Aldridge shooting and scoring reliably as well means that the Spurs are able to experiment with lineups featuring Dewayne Dedmon in crunch minutes when the situation arises. While leaving Gasol on the bench could be a detriment on offense, Dedmon is a much more versatile defender, especially against teams that will run the pick-and-roll heavily against Tony Parker and whoever is the current Spurs’ center. There are some teams that have strong defensive wings but will struggle to slow Aldridge down (the game on Christmas against the Bulls is a good example of this), meaning that having that second reliable scorer helps provide consistency to the Spurs’ offense. The Spurs are currently 4th in offensive rating and are less than 2 points per 100 possessions out of first. The Spurs’ offensive ceiling is much higher when Aldridge is performing at the level that he is right now. And they’ll need him performing down the stretch and into the playoffs as well, as his play will be vital if the Spurs hope to make another deep playoff run this season.
All stats obtained from nba.com/stats.