When the Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge, many questioned whether Aldridge – a high-volume scorer with the Trail Blazers – would fit in San Antonio. He was compared frequently to Tim Duncan, who – as great as he was with the ball in at his peak – willingly deferred to his teammates at times so he could expend more energy on defense and making the little plays necessary for winning.
Duncan defined San Antonio’s culture. Aldridge had potential to disrupt it.
But where did Kawhi Leonard fit into the equation?
You probably know if you’re reading this website that Leonard is the Spurs’ best player, but many casual fans have not acknowledged his ascendance (though, with Leonard starting the All-Star game, that’s changing in a hurry).
Did Aldridge understand? And was he prepared to mesh with Leonard for the next five years, not just Duncan for the next one or two?
“I don’t see myself being that guy here,” Aldridge said. “This is more Kawhi’s team, and we all fit in around him and try to make his life a little easier. If I was trying to be that guy still, I should have not come. I’m OK trying to help Kawhi be great every night.”
I wondered whether Aldridge saw San Antonio as a place where Leonard – the NBA’s best defender and capable of being a terrific offensive complement – could help him win without hogging the glory. Leonard could allow Aldridge to focus on scoring, usually the quickest path to admiration. Leonard would be the Spurs’ best player. Aldridge would be seen by many as the Spurs’ best player.
But if that were Aldridge’s plan, Leonard threw a hitch into it. The fifth-year forward has developed as one of the NBA’s best go-to scorers, improving his long-distance shooting and becoming more aggressive inside the arc. Leonard’s combination of volume (19.9 points per game) and efficiency (61.9 true shooting percentage) is matched by only Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.
The great news for San Antonio: Aldridge sounds fine with that – and he has backed it up on the court. Aldridge has adjusted his game to help his new team.
And he’s being rewarded for it. Despite his per-game scoring average dropping from 23.4 to 15.9, Aldridge was named an All-Star. I wouldn’t have quite picked him, but reserve-selecting coaches often feel a need to reward a team as dominant as the Spurs with multiple All-Stars. Aldridge, who’d done his part to create that dominance, was a logical second choice after Leonard.
Aldridge is getting rewarded for his sacrifice.
His statement couldn’t be more encouraging for San Antonio’s future. The Spurs transitioned seamlessly from a Tim Duncan-David Robinson core to a Tim Duncan-Tony Parker–Manu Ginobili core, the new players continuing the NBA’s strongest culture.
It seems the Leonard-Aldridge era – thanks to Aldridge’s buy in – is on track to keep the Spurs one of the NBA’s premier teams.