LaMarcus Aldridge was the best player in the NBA to switch teams during the offseason. In fact, he’s one of two players in our entire Top 50 who will don a new uni this season.
That alone should tell you how big his move from Portland to San Antonio already is, without him even suiting up for a regular-season game yet.
It’s rare to sign a free agent as good as Aldridge, and his arrival will not only keep the Spurs’ championship window open, it already has them as one of the top two favorites in Vegas to win it all in 2015-16 (behind only the Cavaliers, who re-signed the summer’s top free agent, a guy whose name you’re probably familiar with and who has yet to appear on our list).
After considering several teams, like the Suns, Lakers and his hometown Mavs, the Dallas, TX, native signed a four-year, $80 million contract with the Spurs in July, the same month in which he turned 30 years old.
A four-time All-Star, LA averaged a career-high 23.4 points per game in 2014-15, to go with 10.2 boards and 1 block a night for the Trail Blazers. He led the League in field goals made (659) and was named to the All-NBA Second-Team for the first time in his nine-year career.
He finished in the top 10 in the NBA in rebounding, points, usage rate and PER for a Blazers team that limped to a five-game ousting in the first round at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies.
And oh yeah, Aldridge did all that despite tearing a ligament in his left thumb in January, which he elected to not have surgery on in order to keep himself on the court and keep his team in the hunt.
Aldridge is arguably the NBA’s best post-up player, with a deadly mix of fadeaways, dunks, floaters and more at his disposal. And you cannot leave him open, ever, anywhere, since he can pop the mid-range jumper with consistency, too.
As if that weren’t enough to deal with for defenders, Aldridge made 37 of his 105 three-point attempts (35 percent) in 2014-15, which is more than he’d ever even attempted in any season prior.
He’s underrated on the defensive end, where he’s quick enough on his feet to stay with stretch-4 and bigger than most traditional ones—plus he’s actually proved to be pretty hard to get past for smaller guards in pick-and-roll situations.
He’s admittedly not an amazing rim protector but he is, if nothing else, a big body (6-11, 240) near the basket who can rely on his length to affect shots.
OK, so LA cares about his numbers. Speaking with Sam Amick of USA TODAY, Aldridge recounted a conversation he had with Spurs assistant coach Ime Udoka that eventually convinced him to sign with San Antonio:
“Everybody was making this big fuss about how I’m not going to be able to take shots anymore, or be the scorer that I am, and he was just telling me, ‘We need a guy to score down there. Tim (Duncan) is older, and we need a guy to command a double team down there.’
“So I was like, Maybe I’m not a Spur, because I’ve been averaging 23 (points per game) for the last three to four years, and maybe I don’t fit into y’all’s system of let’s all average 17 (points per game).
“And he was like, ‘No, we’re not trying to change who you are and make you average 16 or 17. We want you to be you, because you’re going to help us be better and vice versa.’
“He kind of reaffirmed that they didn’t want to change me, and that who I am is OK.”
The argument against Aldridge having an as-good or better season than his last one centers on the fact that he might not fit perfectly into the Spurs’ system—that the conversation referenced above kind of flies in the face of everything that we’ve become accustomed to hearing out of San Antonio since Gregg Popovich’s arrival in 1996.
But, “I see a lot of easy shots,” Aldridge told the San Antonio Express-News in August. “Pop’s really good at misdirection, and the team is so unselfish that the ball moves around.”
Earlier this summer his new Spurs teammate Danny Green was quoted as saying: “Our game is not as much Xs and Os as people think. It’s just playing in the flow of the game. He’s going to make it a lot easier for us.”
Translation: no matter what LA is used to, the Spurs aren’t going to lob the ball in to LA and stand around. It just wouldn’t be Spursian.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe has a good primer on the potential fit. But when you boil it down, Green is right—sets and playcalls aside, it’s still about the players on the court playing ball. Are you really going to sit there and argue that one of the game’s top players is going to somehow get worse with Pop as his head coach?
Aldridge is all of a sudden surrounded by the most unselfish group in the NBA. Duncan will slide over and play center to appease the new acquisition. Tony Parker will get him easy buckets. And Pop won’t hesitate to cuss him out if need be.
Aldridge, for whatever his desires, signed with the Spurs because he knows he’s in good (the best) hands. Pop will undoubtedly take Aldridge’s otherworldly physical gifts and help him grow the cerebral part of his game.
At this point, he’s had basically all summer to get situated with the Spurs. Barring something out of left field, it’s difficult to imagine Aldridge not living up to his No. 10 ranking.
At his position, Chris Bosh and Kevin Love have question marks, Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol are getting older and the Serge Ibakas and Paul Millsaps of the world just aren’t on his level. Aldridge isn’t a physical freak like Anthony Davis, but we take his consistent fundamental greatness for granted.
For transparency’s sake, I had Aldridge at No. 8 on my ballot. Yeah, he’s going to be that good this season—even if it doesn’t show up in the traditional statistical categories (I think LaMarcus will get over it when he sees the Ws piling up). In Pop we trust.
|SLAM Top 50 Players 2015|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.