Without Kawhi Leonard, the San Antonio Spurs have needed to lean on LaMarcus Aldridge. And he’s underwhelmed against Golden State.
On Saturday night, the Spurs fell down 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals. It wasn’t a blowout like in Game 2, but, yet again, their new go-to guy hasn’t been someone they can actively go to. Aldridge shot just 7-of-17 in 28 minutes of action and tallied 18 points. On the one hand, he’s looking to get shots. On the other, Golden State’s defense has been too much to overcome and it looks like the loss of Leonard is hurting him more than ever.
This performance follows an even more forgettable one, and Aldridge had just eight points in the Warriors’ 36-points waxing of San Antonio on May 16. Even Gregg Popovich wasn’t thrilled with how the five-time All-Star played, and the final question of his press conference was a one-word answer:
"Have a good night" pic.twitter.com/JX0Ft3DW3F
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) May 21, 2017
Ever since Aldridge came over from Portland, he’s looked lost. At times, it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. With the Trail Blazers, Aldridge was the 1B to Damian Lillard‘s 1A, and, at times, the two would flip-flop their letters. San Antonio is much different. It’s a system that’s foreign to Aldridge, and so much all of the Blazers offense was directly created by the point-guard-forward combo. For the 2014-15 season, the two combined to average 44.4 points a night and Portland as a team was at 102.8. In scoring alone, Aldridge and Lillard accounted for 43.1 percent of the Blazers’ points on a nightly basis.
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With the Spurs, ball movement is the catalyst for their offense. Additionally, Aldridge is clearly playing second-fiddle to Kawhi Leonard. While that’s not a bad thing, he doesn’t have the versatility to make the same impact as Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol or David Lee. If Aldridge isn’t getting the ball on the block, there isn’t much he can do outside of rebounding because he’s a lackluster defender with questionable passing skills — both of which are hugely necessary for the Spurs success. The result of that is San Antonio’s offense running less efficiently with Aldridge on the floor, and Basketball Reference estimates that the Spurs are six points worse per 100 possessions compared to when Aldridge is on the bench. (But wait, it gets worse: According to NBA.com, his plus/minus in the Conference Finals is minus-20.3 a night. It’s amazing that a team can be 20 points worse with an All-NBA player on the court.)
Not all of this is Aldridge’s fault. Because of his outburst in the first game, he’s maintained a scoring average of 18 points a night, but all of his issues can be chalked up to the Warriors’ overpowering defense. Golden State has a handful of guys they can pick to defend Aldridge, and it starts with Draymond Green. The NBA’s most versatile defender has the strength and athleticism to bang bodies with LMA despite giving up four (or maybe even five) inches, but when he sits is when Aldridge has the best opportunity to take advantage of lesser defenders. That has yet to happen.
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David West, Zaza Pachulia (when healthy) and JaVale McGee aren’t the same caliber defender as Green. This is a fact. Aldridge’s skill set on the block is more than enough to do damage against them. Regardless, the Warriors have an elite defense, and the help is always going to be there for whoever is checking Aldridge. Even if he pulls Pachulia out to 18 feet, Pachulia can press him and take away the jump shot because there’s going to be help on the drive. In that particular instance, Golden State has been tremendous in limiting the effectiveness of the Spurs’ pick-and-pop, and Aldridge has shot just 4-of-20 on mid-range attempts, including 3-of-13 in the 15-19 feet area, according to NBA.com.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, this series is all but over. Kawhi Leonard’s injury took the wind out of the sails prematurely, and being down three games is a huge hole to overcome. I don’t want to say it the Spurs can’t do it, but it’s going to take LaMarcus Olajuwon combined to Leonard to make it happen.
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