Perhaps the most notable takeaway from the game though, was that Aldridge didn’t even attempt one three. When stretch-fours are more prevalent due to the rise of rim running athletic centers, seeing a starting big shoot no three pointers is quite remarkable. Aldridge has never really been utilized from beyond the line anyway, but his three-point attempt numbers have gone down to 0.3 per game from 0.8 and 1.2 per game in the previous two campaigns.
So how is LaMarcus Aldridge managing to elevate this Spurs to an elite offensive team despite the shot profile that many think is inefficient? The answer is slightly complex.
On the whole, it is a mix of offensive creativity, and Aldridge simply playing with power, intelligence and poise in half-court settings.
The play below is an example of offensive creativity allowing two inside scorers to thrive.
The Spurs send Marco Belinelli in motion, to clear out space on the strong side. They then use Aldridge to set a flare screen, which gives DeRozan space to attack downhill as Paul George gets caught in the screen. The Thunder then switch Steven Adams onto DeRozan, but this allows Aldridge to slip his man and get the easy dunk. The action is simple but as the Spurs have done over the years, they run it to perfection. Good action and player movement to create downhill opportunities is a good way to maximize two players with limited outside shots.
But Aldridge has not just thrived on great play designs, he has performed well making tough shots. The Spurs are comfortable enough for their sets to end in an Aldridge isolation style play because they trust him to make them.
The play below is a good example of how having a big like Aldridge is being used to take advantage of the switch-heavy schemes we are seeing pop up around the NBA.
The Clippers switch on the simple action from the Spurs, and Aldridge has an easy bucket against Danilo Gallinari. The Timberwolves use Taj Gibson to take advantage of smaller power forwards that are springing up around the NBA, and the Spurs have a real advantage with Aldridge here so they can do the same.
Even if Aldridge does get the tough post defense, part of what has made him so great this year is his ability to make tough jumpers. It has given the Spurs well designed system the element of individuality, which is always required to win basketball games in the NBA.
Many other players on the Spurs are shooting well enough from mid-range to justify their heavy usage of it, but it is mostly running through LaMarcus Aldridge. They always look for him late in the shot clock, and he is the man taking the tough shots and creating the gravity in half-court sets.
You do have to wonder if Aldridge is somewhat underappreciated in the NBA. He has consistently been a high level scorer as a power forward, and he has adapted his game to the modern NBA. Sure, the Spurs run a style that isn’t necessarily seen as modern, but Aldridge can hang with the very best bigs, and he has had some big performances against some very tough defensive centers. He doesn’t stretch anyone out to the three-point line, but you can bet that he is going to fadeaway his man to death, and pummel morale by constantly turning broken possessions into buckets.
The Spurs were out of many people’s playoff brackets purely for the offensive system they were going to run, but they have made people look silly. The NBA is a cyclical league, and you do have to wonder if the success the Spurs are having from mid-range will end the short era where the shot has been portrayed as an abomination.
Featured photo – via Ronald Cortes / Getty Images / NBAE / Double Clutch illustration