The arrival of LaMarcus Aldridge is expected to improve the Spurs' offense, for obvious reasons. Aldridge is a legitimate first option, someone who can create for himself in the half court and move the ball if he draws the attention of the defense. His ability to shoot from mid-range and potentially from beyond the arc will provide spacing that was lacking with Tiago Splitter in the starting lineup and will allow Tim Duncan to stay close to the rim.
Yet the biggest beneficiary of Aldridge's addition will likely be Tony Parker, who will finally have the type of big man next to him that he needs to excel.
It's no secret Parker has declined as a shot creator the last two years. After averaging over 20 points and seven assists in 2012/13, his numbers dropped to 17 and six and 14 and five in 2013/14 and 2014/15, respectively. He hasn't gotten to the rim or to the free throw line as much, which coupled with his dreadful transition numbers, suggest he has lost a step. At 32 years of age, that's to be expected. It's also likely irreversible, which means the Spurs need to find ways to mitigate that problem.
Unfortunately Parker's loss of quickness has coincided with Tim Duncan's decline as a jump-shooter, which has only made it more noticeable. Here are the shot charts for Duncan's field goals assisted by Parker over the past three seasons:
If you focus on the elbows and the area around the free throw line, it becomes clear that the pick and pop jumper -- so useful in punishing defenses for trying to deter Parker's penetration -- has gone missing.
Plays like that one are from 2012/13 are now few and far between, which means that stopping Parker from creating buckets in the pick and roll is as easy as having the screener's man zone up or do a soft show. For him to turn the corner on a big he would need a full head of steam or to be going against a very slow defender. Parker's choices are pulling up -- which has not been a good option, as his mid-range shot has also been declining in efficiency -- or passing to Duncan to initiate a dribble hand-off option on the weak side.
Having LaMarcus Aldridge instead of Duncan screening for him, however, would either force the defense to adjust or live with Aldridge killing them from mid-range.
That's the exact same type of high pick and pop play as the one from above. Steve Blake, a lesser player than Parker, creates a bucket simply because Aldridge is a killer mid-range shooter, as his shot chart from last season shows.
Aldridge is an above average shooter from the elbows and the area near the free throw line. What's shocking is he was good from mid-range last season despite having been assisted on only 58 percent of his made field goals from that distance. Aldridge has arguably surpassed Dirk Nowitzki as the best volume mid-range shooting big man in the league and that will offer Parker a great weapon to work with on ball screens.
Not only will Aldridge's shooting allow Parker to rack up assists easily but it could also unlock his driving game. Because Aldridge is deadly on pick and pops, teams often have their big men go further out to the perimeter to go to "contact show" coverage to prevent the pocket pass. The problem there is the ball handler doesn't have to be lightning quick to turn the corner. Steve Blake does it here before waiting for Aldridge to dive.
In those situations Parker should be able to turn on the jets and get to the rim to either finish or find the open man after a rotation. Even if he can't, Aldridge is fantastic at recognizing the gap in the defense and diving when they guard him like that -- as that last play shows -- becoming an easy target for assists. He sometimes even anticipates it and slips the screen.
Switching on ball screens is not a good option either, as Aldridge is one of the best post scorers in the league thanks to his ability to turn over either shoulder and hit jump shots. If he decides to use his expanding range (35 percent three-point shooter) to space the floor instead of calling for the ball, Parker would have the chance to isolate against a big man with room to maneuver. There's really no great way to defend the Aldridge-Parker two-man game, at least in theory.
Parker had arguably the best year of his career playing next to a big man who could hit pick and pop mid-range jumpers when Duncan had that ability and will now get an even better version of that type of player. Even if he's lost a step, he should be able to capitalize on the attention Aldridge draws to get to the rim or log assists on pocket passes when the big man drops. And since the Trail Blazers ran similar -- if modified -- sets as the Spurs, the acclimation period should not be long.
It would be surprising if Parker doesn't get better assist numbers next season and has an uptick on volume and efficiency on shots near the rim. It remains to be seen if he can remain healthy and if his mid-range jumper returns. Unless that happens, he will be just another good point guard. If it does, however, the addition of Aldridge would prove to be even better than initially considered because it could allow Tony to approach the level that once had him in the MVP conversation.