Following his second year in San Antonio that saw him reach his lowest points per game total since his rookie season in 2006, LaMarcus Aldridge sat down with Gregg Popovich and discussed his desire for a change of scenery.
“I’m not enjoying this. I’m not confident. I’m not sure you want me here. I want to be traded”, were all things Aldridge told Pop in the offseason. Shortly after this meeting though, Aldridge and the Spurs agreed to a three-year, $72.3 million contract extension.
This left Spurs fans everywhere frustrated and a little confused as many fans wanted Aldridge gone following his two underwhelming years with the Spurs. Little did they know though that he would then go on to have arguably the best year of his career and carry the Spurs to the postseason almost single-handedly. So what happened that led to this resurgence? How could a player go from almost being booed out of San Antonio to being universally recognized as San Antonio’s savior in just one season?
Letting Aldridge be Aldridge Again.
Perhaps the biggest key to Aldridge’s resurgence on offense has been loosening the grip on how he fits in the offensive system and just letting LaMarcus do what he does best. By his own admission, Popovich said it himself that he tried to change Aldridge a little too much.
“In the past, I just confused him, tried to make him somebody he wasn’t. On offense, I was going to move him everywhere…That was just silly on my part. Total overcoaching”.
In the previous two years, Popovich tried to change Aldridge to help complement the system in place. This was all well and good as the Spurs went on to win 61 games, but it was not all well and good for Aldridge and led to career lows in usage and player efficiency.
The shift in the offense this past season simply went from trying to have Aldridge compliment the system to having the system compliment Aldridge. All of a sudden Aldridge was getting the ball in his spots and playing with more confidence than ever. This led to a staggering increase in both production and efficiency, which almost never happens, averaging 23.1 points per game on 51% shooting and a career-high 25.12 player efficiency rating.
The Kawhi Leonard Injury
The Kawhi Leonard injury was an unfortunate shadow that was cast over the Spurs during the entire 2018 season, but perhaps the one and only positive that came from it was that it allowed Aldridge to once again be the offensive centerpiece that he was when in Portland.
Aldridge is by no means a complicated player, he’s a player that has to be consistently involved in the offense in order to stay productive. Most of his success this past season has been attributed to simply putting him in spots on the floor he’s most comfortable and letting him go to work. Aldridge said it himself that he’s a rhythm player, and when he’s out of rhythm, his offensive game suffers.
Aldridge doesn’t need to shoot it every possession to stay in rhythm, but he does need to stay involved. That just was not the case when he shared the floor with Leonard. Although Kawhi scored extremely effectively when operating in the pick and roll with Aldridge, he often uses it as a tool to primarily score and passes out only if he absolutely had to.
Too often during the 2016-2017 season Aldridge was left to just stand and watch Leonard do his thing, and when his number was called he was often out of rhythm.
Now that Aldridge is paired with DeMar DeRozan, Aldridge shouldn’t see the drop off he had with Leonard in previous years. Although both Leonard and DeRozan are high usage players, DeMar is better at getting his teammates involved and distributing the ball. DeMar DeRozan averaged 5.2 assists per game last year which would have led the Spurs last year by far and will most likely average even more next year as the Spurs do not have a go-to distributor like Kyle Lowry.
Had you asked Spurs fans last year where they expect the Spurs and LaMarcus Aldridge to be going forward, many would have told you they expect him to be long gone. But after a season filled with hardship and frustration, there was one constant that carried the Spurs every night and eventually to the postseason and that was Aldridge.
And to think all this happened because of a simple conversation between a coach and his player.