Since I started the Fraternizing with the Enemy series, no one has joined me for conversations more often than Dave Deckard of Blazers Edge. We both enjoy this format so much that we'll start one up just because we're bored. So you can imagine it didn't take very long after LaMarcus Aldridge announced for us to get started on one. Here's the result.
J. R. Wilco
I told myself this could never happen.
In every post PtR did about LaMarcus coming to the Spurs, I made sure to include a grain silo of salt. "San Antonio isn't a big name free agent destination" I would repeat to myself ad nauseam. It got to the point where I actually believed it.
San Antonio fans had been burned too many times in the past. Burned by rumors and speculation that this or that free-agent valued what Pop and the Big Three had built in the Alamo City. But the Spurs couldn't even sign the Shane Battiers of the league. In the end, the largest free-agent signing of the era was Michael Finley, who won a title and was good for the Spurs, but hardly a game-changer like Aldridge.
Last month, you and I did our podcast on the subject, and I spent the whole discussion downplaying the possibility, while the best case for LMA signing with the Spurs came from you.
And now it's happened -- if not exactly the way you proposed, then pretty close to it -- and my first thought (after "When will Portland stop being the fates' whipping boy?") is to ask you to about Aldridge's defense.
I know he can score, but his work without the ball is what I think could make or break San Antonio's championship chances. How good a defender can he be? How well will he fit into the Spurs' defense? And how do you see Pop tweaking things to accommodate LaMarcus' talents?
Oh no you don't! If I start telling Pop how to coach he's gonna come to my house and remove every one of my nose hairs with a blowtorch. I've seen him work with media. You're not trapping me into that one, Wilco.
I don't think you have to worry about Aldridge defensively as long as you have a good system around him. He's no David Robinson or Tim Duncan, but he'll do well enough. As long as there's space around him, he'll fare well. If you throw him in there and ask him to stop the opponent's best big one-on-one, he probably won't do that.
One thing you might be pleasantly surprised by is his ability to cover ground. He doesn't get out there as much as he did early in his career, but he's not necessarily exposed against opposing wings if he gets switched. Aldridge has good lateral movement for his size.
But hey...have you read the Portland papers and the national media getting their feed from the Blazers? Apparently you're getting an ungrateful, lying rat bastard who's socially maladjusted and doesn't like other teammates getting more credit than he. 9 years in Portland and not a peep about this. Who knew???
First, why should I read the Portland papers or national media when I can converse with you and find out everything noteworthy that's going on in that big bad world without having to experience any of it myself?
Second, as this is the first big name free agent San Antonio has signed in the Pop/Duncan era, I don't think we're in any position to be picky -- socially maladjusted lying rat bastards or no. That said, there's no way to stop a jilted fanbase from giving full vent to their sour grapes. I'm just glad that no one's accusing him of being a mass-murdering pierogi addict.
But this is all beside the point because being allowed to second-guess Pop (and imagine what he'll do) is practically a part of the Spurs' Fans Bill of Rights. And if Spurs fans can get away with it, then you're certainly not going to be called on the carpet for engaging in some harmless hypotheticals. Surely you know that Pop always takes it easier on the out-of-towners of the press corps.
So you're not getting off the hook that easy. If it makes it any easier for you, think of my question like this: if you were the coach of the Spurs, how would you integrate Aldridge into a starting lineup with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard? And if you find some way to object to that, then tell me what I'm going to be surprised by (pleasantly or un-) while watching LMA in Silver and Black.
You're going to be surprised how the subtle color of his eyes is starkly exposed by the COMPLETE LACK OF HUE IN YOUR UNIFORMS. What's up with that? Put some effort in! Little dab of puce maybe? Or a brush of mauve?
And burn those all-gray things. Seriously. Burn ‘em up like Lloyd Daniels with an open floor in front of him.
OK, so look...if I'm coaching the Spurs I don't overcomplicate this. LaMarcus is the main option on the left side of the floor. He can go for the 15-18 foot turn-around, sure, but I also run him in pick and pops, let him go to the three-point arc even...keep him in motion more than he was with the Blazers. Parker can play on that side too, probably with Duncan, Green, and Kawhi up top or on the weak side, in motion, cutting and screening for each other.
That's the basic idea, but I don't stop there. That lineup is so interchangeable. Duncan and Aldridge can swap sides. You have some nasty double-screen options. Everybody is versatile.
You're going to be surprised how clockwork deadly Aldridge has become from the mid-range. It's hard to take it in until you actually see it night after night. You can read Aldridge's stats, you can talk about the (in)efficiency of the mid-range game, but LaMarcus transcends all that. One of the things I'll miss most about having him anchor the offense is that you can tell when his shot is going to fall before he even takes it. His position on the floor, how open he is...when certain things happen the ball going through the net is a guarantee.
Hopefully the Spurs will be better to provide a blanket around LaMarcus when other teams are forcing him out of his game. That was one of the problems in Portland. If Aldridge got bullied or harried by double-teams, the offense fell like dominoes behind him. Nobody's shot was sure anymore. With San Antonio's experience, dealing with that should be easier.
So what about you? What are you looking forward to most?
They tried the color thing already. It wasn't as good as you make it sound. Just let them stick to what they know: shades of gray and winning championships every other year ... or so.
And what do you know about Aldridge and his love for the left side of the court? He even hits nearly half of his corner threes from the left. That's crazy. If he can keep that up in San Antonio, then opposing defenses are going to be pulled around like saltwater taffy.
What am I looking forward to? Those options you were talking about. Ever since 2011 when Pop changed the offense from a post-heavy, station-to-station affair to the motion-based, read-and-react system, I've developed an addiction to Beautiful Basketball.
High scoring sports are about maximizing the things that the defense has no answer for, and a big man who's unconscious from mid-range definitely qualifies as one of those things. When a defense game plans to force LaMarcus out of his game, that means that someone else is going to be open, and that's when I expect the ball to whiz around the court into the hands of someone all alone under the rim, or by himself at the three-point line.
Another thing i'm looking forward to is LaMarcus being that wide-open guy receiving the pass. After having to create his own shot or try to beat double teams, it's going to be fun to see how he reacts to being plugged into a system that makes good players great, and converts smart players into Einstein in sneakers. When the Spurs have the defense scrambling to keep up it's so much fun to watch, and can't wait to see Aldridge enjoying himself in that environment.
Which brings me to my questions. You've seen him in a few different systems in his nine years as a Trail Blazer, what can you tell me about his ability to pick things up? And how would you rate his passing?
Pulled around like saltwater taffy? Wilco, are you trying to steal my analogy schtick?
Did you mean opposing defense would get pulled around like a 5-year-old on garage sale day?
Or do you mean that your offense would pull like George Clooney at a sorority?
I mean, either way, Señor Taffy.
LaMarcus' passing is good UNLESS he's double-teamed, the aforementioned "taken out of the offense". He tends to hold, retreat, then offer a weak bail-out pass. He's a good passer if the avenue is open, but he's not that brilliant, quick-snap-pass guy that keeps the ball moving. He's more of an endpoint for offense than a conduit.
The again, this may be how the Blazers used him as well. He could evolve into San Antonio's system.
I'm struggling to think of any area the veteran Aldridge is truly deficient in. His game has shifted over the years depending on how he's been used, but mostly the things he's good at have trended upwards and he's solidified into "good enough" in his weaker categories. He's developed more mental toughness on the court and the killer instinct to finish his shot, if not a game. (Damian Lillard has more of the latter, which is why he gets those opportunities.) He doesn't set picks that well. That's the biggest one I can think of.
Your analogy schtick? YOUR analogy ...
Look, I've already admitted that you're better than I am at coming up with accurate, entertaining, pithy analogies. And the last time we had a conversation in which we engaged in an analogy-off, I think you outscored me in the 3:2 range. But to say the schtick belongs to you -- it's a bit of a reach.
Regardless, if Aldridge is weak in one area that I feel certain that the Spurs can make him good/great in, it's setting screens. He'll certainly get a ton of practice at them, that's for certain. As for his passing, my guess is that he's at least above-average. If he's not, then that'll likely be the first thing that the coaching staff works with him on. But that's all a part of integrating him into the offense, and with the way that the 2nd meeting he had with Pop at lunch on Friday centered on X's and O's, I feel certain that both sides are confident he's capable of measuring up.
And I think that brings me to my last questions: How good do you think the Spurs will be next year, and what do you expect from them? Besides that, is there anything you'd like to leave me with? Anything we haven't talked about that will help me prepare for cheering LeMarcus on? Anything that only die hard Blazers fans have noticed about the man or his game?
You're getting a really good player...a rarity. A guy who can dominate using a shot that's a weakness for most players. I've seen Nowitzki and Duncan do it. Aldridge is approaching that level of unstoppable.
I think you are going to be pleased. I think Aldridge is going to be pleased. I don't know how good you'll be next year. Depends on how many of the other wheels stay on. But between LMA, Kawhi, and Green, you're shifting to the next generation while retaining the old generation for a while too. I think you'll be fine.
Congratulations, San Antonio. Best of luck.