Which team has won the NBA free-agency period? So far, it’s been the San Antonio Spurs, who landed perennial All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge last Saturday after the two agreed on a max contract for the former Portland Trail Blazer.
Aldridge will sign a four-year, $80 million maximum contract with San Antonio, league source tells Yahoo.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 4, 2015
Aldridge’s acquisition has come at a cost for San Antonio, which had to trade Tiago Splitter to the Atlanta Hawks to free up cap room. The Spurs also won’t bring back rotation players Aron Baynes, Marco Belinelli and Cory Joseph, who all agreed to deals elsewhere. San Antonio did help stop the bleeding by agreeing to a veteran’s minimum contract with David West, which was nothing short of highway robbery.
Ultimately, Aldridge’s star power should make up for whatever San Antonio will have lost in depth. The Spurs now have a top-notch starting lineup, and with head coach Gregg Popovich at the helm, you just know their bench will be at least decent.
But, speaking of the starting lineup, San Antonio should trot out the following five players at tipoff:
PG: Tony Parker
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Tim Duncan
With that in mind, let’s examine Aldridge’s fit with the Spurs on both ends of the floor, including both positive and negative aspects of his game, and then make some statistical predictions for his 2015-16 season.
How Aldridge Fits on Offense
First, Aldridge is going to benefit hugely from playing alongside a skilled offensive big man.
Don’t get me wrong, former Blazer Robin Lopez wasn’t bad on that end, but he doesn’t command the respect of the defense near as much as Tim Duncan does.
If the opposition plays two big men against the Spurs, both will have to be solid defensively to contain Duncan and Aldridge. If one of them isn’t up to snuff on that end, the opponent will have to pick its poison: does it want Timmy to abuse the mediocre stopper inside with turnaround jumpers and soft hooks? Or does it want LaMarcus nailing those same turnaround jumpers or driving right past its defensive sieve?
If the opposition wants to go small, it’ll be the same thing. The de facto power forward will have no shot against Duncan’s or Aldridge’s length.
But now, let’s go more in depth on LMA’s excellent offensive game.
The main thing that sticks out is his soft mid-range jumper. His pet move is catching the ball with his back to the basket, turning around to face up, taking one dribble to the right (to give the impression he’s driving) and then quickly pulling up for a high-arcing shot. The shot has a great chance of going in even when his opponent puts up a good contest.
You’ll see what I’m talking about in the first play of the below video, and many other times in the same video.
As you can tell from Aldridge’s highlights, he also likes punishing opponents for losing him on screens. He’ll set a pick, run to a spot and quickly ready himself for a pass and quick release.
A lot of the time, the shot goes in. You can hear Aldridge’s thoughts on the pick-and-pop here, as well.
LaMarcus’ mid-range game is what makes him a truly special big man, but he leverages the threat of that shot to drive past his opponents and finish well at the rim. His soft touch at the basket makes up for his average explosiveness, and he ended up shooting 70.1 percent within three feet last season, an excellent mark.
In San Antonio, look for the Spurs to get Aldridge involved in lots of pick-and-pops and pin downs to get him open around 15 to 20 feet from the basket, particularly on the left side of the court.
That’s clearly his preferred area to shoot from, as his 2014-15 shooting chart shows.
While Blazers head coach Terry Stotts is no slouch with his offensive sets, Spurs head man Gregg Popovich will find more creative ways to get Aldridge more open mid-range jumpers.
Stotts had his team just dump the ball down in the post to let his All-Star power forward operate a little bit too much, instead of trying to get him more room to work with. If Pop can help get Aldridge into a rhythm from some early easy shots, he can also convert on a higher number of his difficult shots.
LaMarcus has great hands and uses them to be a solid passer, which will help make him an even more effective cog in the Spurs system. Although he can make plays for others, he has a tendency to bail the opponent out with difficult jump shots over a double team instead of just finding the open man. It’s a big reason his field-goal percentage was only 46.6 last year, and his usage rate (30.2) was so high.
That habit will have to leave him in San Antonio, but he also probably won’t see as many doubles playing next to four solid offensive players.
And if there is one aspect that Aldridge is a downgrade from his predecessor, Splitter, on the offensive side of the court, it’s with screening. LaMarcus doesn’t get a wide enough base all the time and can let diligent defenders get through.
He’ll have to work harder to use proper pick-setting technique in order to get more open shots from mid-range.
How Aldridge Fits on Defense
Aldridge is not a big shot-blocker. He’s never averaged more than 1.2 swats per game in a season, and he isn’t necessarily a guy who’ll make his opponent look silly for testing him at the tin.
But he is generally effective defending the interior.
Of all players who contested at least five shots at the rim per game, LaMarcus ranked No. 6 in lowest opponent field-goal percentage at the goal (45.1). Five notable names occupy the five spots above him: Rudy Gobert, Serge Ibaka, Andrew Bogut, Roy Hibbert and Derrick Favors.
And who was below him? Dwight Howard, Timofey Mozgov, Draymond Green and yes, Tim Duncan, to name a few.
Aldridge’s mere 1.8 fouls per game last season were also an insanely low total for any player, much less a big man, playing more than 35 minutes per contest.
However, according to Blazers’ Edge’s Dave Deckard, in a conversation with Pounding the Rock’s J.R. Wilco, “If you throw [Aldridge] in there and ask him to stop the opponent’s best big one-on-one, he probably won’t do that.”
So, where we’re at so far is: Aldridge, at a long 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, is a big body who knows how to contest shots at the rim well, but won’t necessarily shut down his man.
I would describe Aldridge as “fine” on defense.
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) July 1, 2015
Fortunately, San Antonio has Duncan to take on the opponent’s best low-post threat. Timmy is probably the league’s smartest defender and matches up well against any offensive big man who likes to operate mostly inside the paint.
Deckard also noted that “one thing you might be pleasantly surprised by is his ability to cover ground.” For Spurs fans, this will be a godsend. Duncan is painfully slow laterally, and if Aldridge can be trusted against stretch 4s, that makes San Antonio that much more formidable on defense.
Lastly, Aldridge is an above-average rebounder, and slightly better than Splitter in that respect. The new Spur averaged 10.4 boards per 36 minutes in 2014-15, compared to the old Spur’s 8.8. He, Duncan and Kawhi Leonard will take pride in limiting offensive rebounds for San Antonio’s opponents.
Obviously, adding Aldridge makes the Spurs considerably more dangerous. Not only is he a very good fit (assuming he curtails some of his shot-happy tendencies) with his teammates, he bolted for San Antonio to win and learn from Duncan.
Aldridge has always had the utmost respect for San Antonio’s legendary big man, and made some comments about Duncan before the two met in the Western Conference Semifinals a year ago. Per MySanAntonio’s Jabari Young, LaMarcus said:
“He’s the best power forward of all-time in my eyes. I’ve learned so much watching Tim and just playing against him. I’ve probably taken some of the tricks and things that he uses during the game.”
Now that the two have joined forces, LaMarcus will have no choice but to take more of Duncan’s tricks and improve his game.
2015-16 per-game statistical predictions: 33.5 minutes, 18.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.0 blocks, 50.9 percent shooting, 21.4 player efficiency rating, 0.195 win shares per 48 minutes