Last summer, trade rumors were swirling around LaMarcus Aldridge amid reports he was not happy in San Antonio. While Twitter buzzed with trade possibilities, Aldridge sat down with Gregg Popovich and they talked about how he could be used better — and in ways he was more comfortable — in the Spurs offense. No trade was made, Aldridge returned to Spurs camp this fall.
The Spurs knew they were going into the season without Tony Parker, a key part of their depth (and their most reliable pick-and-roll player). Then came the news they would be without Kawhi Leonard (19 games and counting).
The Spurs are a solid 12-7 to start the season, and Popovich gave a lot of credit for that to Aldridge, speaking to Michael C. Wright of ESPN.
“He’s gotten us through this period of time without Tony and Kawhi in a wonderful way,” Popovich said of Aldridge. “He’s scoring, he’s playing defense, rebounding, running the floor. We’d really be lost without him.”
Aldridge is playing at an All-Star level, averaging 22.2 points and 8.3 rebounds a game, but it’s his efficiency that has impressed — while taking on more of the offense, he has a career-high True Shooting Percentage of 57.3, and his PER of 25.6 also would be a career best. His assist rates are up, his turnover rates down, and he is taking fewer midrange jumpers (even though he can hit them) and shooting more at the rim or from three.
The Spurs wins are more than just Aldridge. Pau Gasol has played well, Kyle Anderson has gone in slo-mo right past everyone to a big step forward in his game, and Dejounte Murray has given them strong minutes at the point. It’s been a group effort, as Spurs GM R.C. Buford pointed out.
“The team’s done a terrific job of coming together. A lot of new players,” Buford told ESPN. “I think Pau [Gasol] and LaMarcus have obviously been significant and the contributions of other guys who have filled in and come together well. We’re obviously not the best team in the league. But the group has taken care of its responsibilities in a way that puts them in a position to win.
If the Spurs can integrate Leonard back into this roster and build on it, they become a lot more dangerous. That’s not as easy as it sounds, Leonard will get a lot of touches and shots, but if you’re going to trust any coach with that job Popovich is the call.