Imagine the loneliness Pop would feel right now if LaMarcus Aldridge hadn’t opted to leave Portland last summer.
Sadly, the Tim Duncan era is over. The era of few words and remarkably awkward outfits is over. Since 1997, the Big Fundamental has been a staple of San Antonio and of the NBA. Saying goodbye is hard.
But the era of 20 and 10s is not over. The era of protecting the rim and controlling the interior is not over. The era of mid-range touch is not over. And, consequently, the era of Spurs’ supremacy is far from over.
This is not to say that Aldridge is the next Duncan, for that would be an unfair burden for any big man to bear. But LA is, without question, one of the elite power forwards in the League today, and has been for quite some time now. With him in San Antonio, along with rising superstar Kawhi Leonard and old reliable Pau Gasol, the franchise is in good hands. You can believe that.
Don’t get hung up on Aldridge’s statistical dip. It’s a total lie. His placement here, at No. 18 on the SLAM Top 50, is more a testament to how stacked the League is. Not to any sort of decline.
In 2015-16, LaMarcus averaged 18.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, compared to 23.4 and 10.2 the season prior. But per 36, the numbers are much closer, and Aldridge shot the highest percentage of his career last year, both from the line (85.8 percent) and from the field (51.3 percent). He finished in the top 10 in defensive rating and defensive win shares, and for the third straight season, in the top-15 in PER. He was also named an All-Star for the fifth consecutive year, and selected to an All-NBA team for the fourth time.
Productivity, efficiency, consistence, defense. That’s a Gregg Popovich dream.
Like Duncan, Aldridge seems to have that quiet killer instinct. He goes about his business, knocking down step-back jumpers, backing down defenders, cleaning up misses etc., and at one point you look up and think, When did this guy get 19 and 11? Duncan was always like that. The two of them just make basketball look so easy.
But as with Timmy, there are games when Aldridge’s performance is simply impossible to overlook. These games serve as eye-openers. They are LaMarcus’ way of reminding the world that he’s capable of being the best player on the floor any given night. They are LaMarcus’ way of assuring fans that he is a superstar. Don’t you forget it.
This was perhaps never more apparent than in the 2016 Western Conference semis, when the Spurs met Durant (…), Westbrook, and the Thunder. In Game 1, Aldridge dropped a cool 38 points on an absurd 18-23 (78.3 percent) shooting, leading San Antonio to a dominant 124-92 victory.
How did the versatile power forward follow it up? By single-handedly keeping his team in Game 2, with 41 more points on 15-21 (71.4 percent) from the field. So yeah, there’s your eye-opener.
For Spurs’ fans lamenting over the departure of one of the greatest of all time, take solace in knowing that Aldridge will be back next year.
And, however quietly, he’ll get the job done.
LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE SLAM TOP 50 HISTORY
|SLAM Top 50 Players 2016|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2016-17—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.
Follow the entire SLAM Top 50 countdown.