LaMarcus Aldridge is playing an elevated game fans and analysts are used to seeing. It is still early, but there is no doubt in seeing how great Aldridge is playing. Last season had many critics speak out against him in his failure to live up to the hole left in the San Antonio Spurs frontcourt by Tim Duncan. Aldridge averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season. This season, seven games into October, he has averaged 23.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. His current rate of play would keep the Spurs in the conversation for possibly knocking off the Golden State Warriors. His performance is important as Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard has not played this season due to injury. This season, he needs to show the Spurs organization he can fill the Duncan role and return to his prominence.
LaMarcus Aldridge’s Career Resurgence
The number two draft pick in 2006, Aldridge had high expectations from the Portland Trail Blazers. Although they did not draft him, they did trade for him that night from the Chicago Bulls. His first few seasons with Portland were decent and his potential showed through. By his 5th and 6th season, his points average sat around 17 or 18 per game and his rebounding ability improved. His play in Portland grew as he averaged a double double his last two seasons with the team. This is the only time he has accomplished this feat.
He signed a 4-year max contract with the San Antonio Spurs in 2015 and seemed to have lost a step. He missed a few games with a heart arrhythmia and a few other minor injuries. Despite these setbacks and fan criticism, the Spurs would sign him to a three-year, $72.3 million deal contract this past off-season. The signing raised plenty of questions and also created more criticism.
The most common critique of Aldridge is his “soft” play, a recent criticism put forth by Spurs fans. His play is technically soft as he favors his fadeaway post moves, which are virtually un-blockable. The shot he typically puts up is also the most efficient in the league among power forwards. However, the real disappointment is not with his playing style but his inability to fulfill the shoes left behind by now-retired Duncan.
Aldridge’s first few years with the Spurs were met with high expectations and quickly turned into talks of a bust. He started to get thrown around trade talks and was possibly going to be relegated to the bench. This is a terrible thing for any player, coach or team to experience as the potential franchise player falls short of his potential and the team’s expectations.
Judging by the performance in seven games this season and compared to his past few years would leave most thinking, what changed? The answer would be Gregg Popovich. The two had a conversation this past off-season to discuss the apparent elephant in the room. Aldridge had once again found himself on the trade table in an off-season full of high profile trades.
A sit-down between the two revealed Popovich took most of the blame in not allowing Aldridge to perform to his potential. This lack of trust in Aldridge’s post play could be blamed on the performance of Leonard and the age-defying performances of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Popovich put an apparent focus on the post game as the Spurs have been without Leonard this season. The change in focus allows Aldridge to play to his abilities and benefit the offense surrounding him.
The 2017-18 Season and Beyond
Aldridge is a great player, there is no questioning that. The consistency in his greatness is what brings questions about him. Can he compete in the playoffs against great teams? Can he effectively lead his team to victory against better teams throughout the league? Most importantly, can he help the Spurs dethrone the Warriors? That question is practically the top of most leagues whiteboards.
The season so far has injuries and chemistry issues among teams and is an opportunity for the Spurs to lead the pack in the title hunt. With Leonard hurt and aging veterans Ginobili and Parker heading into the end of their careers, Aldridge is the leader of this team currently. Thankfully, for the Spurs, his play is among the best in the league and the team is winning. Aldridge has an opportunity to lead the team and solidify his place as a Spur for years to come.