SLAM Top 50: LaMarcus Aldridge, No. 40

The death of the mid-range game and slow footed big men have been a topic of conversation among basketball fans for the past several years. So how has LaMarcus Aldridge remained a fixture in the Association while the game evolves around him? When you have that sweet of a jumper at that size, it will age like fine wine.

Aldridge, in the Spurs system, has seen his scoring numbers go down on the surface, but he was as efficient as ever in his 11th season. At 6-11, Aldridge is a terror to defend in the high post. You simply can’t leave a knockdown shooter from just inside the arc this much room, Marcin Gortat.

Aldridge is a great fit for the Spurs system, even though he is not very fast. Being a threat to shoot from so deep makes him a tough task for bigs to guard. Watch Aldridge help run the offense from the top of the key, only to pull Derrick Favors out to the three-point line, which leads to a great one-legged fadeway.

A tough shot such as the one above is bread and butter for Aldridge. He shot 50 percent on those left side short corner jumpers last season which is where Greg Popovich wants him to be. Aldridge, despite being played at center more in San Antonio than he was in Portland, is still predominantly a mid-range shooter. More than half of his shots come from outside the paint but inside the key. For comparison, 25 percent of Aldridge’s shots come at the rim.

Defenders need to hedge the ball handler in pick-and-roll action, and Aldridge slips a ton of screens to be freed up for his shot.

This could be a strategic move by Pop, as he is playing to Aldridge’s strengths with the trade off being Aldridge’s rebounding numbers. Aldridge averaged under eight rebounds per game in Texas last season, which is a significant drop-off from his double double average he posted in his last season in Portland. The Spurs were a middle of the pack rebounding team, especially in its first season without Tim Duncan, but that may not be on Aldridge as his job is to patrol the middle of the court, not down low.

Aldridge signed with the Spurs two seasons ago in hopes of becoming the man to lead the next era of the franchise when Duncan retired, but that job is now Kawhi Leonard’s. Leonard is an MVP candidate, but Aldridge is exactly the second weapon a multi-faceted forward like Leonard needs. Leonard is a two-way terror that is an emerging ball handler. I expect to see Pop get Aldridge and Leonard involved in a ton of pick-and-pops that was shown earlier. When Leonard picks up a head of steam moving downhill, he’s nearly impossible to stop. Defenders will need to make a choice as to if they should let Leonard get into the paint unscathed, or allow the mid-range maven Aldridge hit from the elbow.

Team’s are splurging on talent through trades and free agency. Stars are teaming up in order to compete with the Warriors and give them a run for their money. However, the most decorated franchise of the past 20 years has kept the status quo, leaning on it’s big man to help stabilize the franchise. Just like his jump shot, Aldridge plans on delivering, again.

Previous Rankings:
2016: No. 18
2015: No. 10
2014: No. 11
2013: No. 20

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2017-18—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

No. 50 – Dion Waiters
No. 49 – Ben Simmons 
No. 48 – Brook Lopez
No. 47 — Harrison Barnes
No. 46 — Jrue Holiday
No. 45 — Lonzo Ball
No. 44 — Myles Turner
No. 43 — Goran Dragic
No. 42 — Andre Drummond
No. 41 — Al Horford