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Expect an even better LaMarcus Aldridge next year

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And he was better than expected in Year One.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs seem a million miles away from the NBA landscape at the moment. The Warriors and Thunder are locked in a compelling, if not always competitive, Western Conference Finals and both look like safe bets to be in contention for the foreseeable future with most of their key pieces in their primes. By contrast, San Antonio has more uncertainty about their roster than they've had in nearly two decades. We don't know if Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili will return for another year --I'd still lean against it for both-- or what each will be able to contribute if they decide to keep playing. We don't know what the future holds for Boris Diaw, David West, Boban Marjanovic or even Danny Green, in certain pipe-dream scenarios. It's all a bit up in the air, and it sure seems like the Spurs will have many new faces in the locker room for the second consecutive season.

What we do know, though, is that they've got the Most Valuable Player runner-up in Kawhi Leonard, who was also justly voted first-team All-NBA and Defensive Player of the Year. We also know he'll have an able sidekick in LaMarcus Aldridge, who earned third-team All-NBA honors. Throw in Green, and already the Spurs are in better shape than 25 other teams.

I admit, I was a bit skeptical of the Aldridge signing, even though I fully understood why the Spurs had to do it. I had questions about his toughness, both physical and mental, I wondered about his attitude on and off the floor, and I wasn't sure he was good enough as a defender or a post-up scorer to be worth the hassle. I thought he was mostly a one-trick mid-range-shooting pony.

Well, Aldridge mostly proved his critics wrong. The weaknesses of his game were better than advertised and he had more clubs in his bag than I realized. He struggled, relatively speaking, for the first half of the season or so, but was undoubtedly playing at star level from New Year's onward.

What was most interesting to me is that the Spurs coaches, players and Aldridge himself put the work in to turn him into an efficient scorer when he hadn't exactly been one his last couple seasons in Portland. In some ways Aldridge's concerns about joining the Spurs were realized. He averaged five fewer minutes per game. And yes, he averaged "only" 18 points after scoring more than 23 per game his last two years with the Blazers.

But the Spurs emphasized quality over quantity. Scoring five fewer points isn't so bad once you realize he took six less shots per game with San Antonio, averaging just 14 attempts compared to 20 at Portland. Even more important was where those attempts came from.

27.9 percent of Aldridge's shots came right at the rim (his highest ratio since 2011-12) which is roughly ten percent better than his last two years in Portland. His shots between 3-10 feet increased from the 16 percent range to over 19 percent.

So the guy thought of mainly as a shooter only took mid-range jumpers and "long twos" on 51.4 percent of his attempts, when it had been over 57 the year before and an absurd 63 percent of his chances in 2013-14.

Not only did he shoot closer to the basket, but he was more accurate when he did. He made 73.3 percent of his shots at the rim, a career-high, and 46.5 percent of his shots from 3-10 feet, the third-best figure of his career.

All this is a long way of saying the Spurs had Aldridge post-up, drive, and not settle for contested jumpers. I know I have criticized the 2015-16 Spurs for being too dependent on mid-range jumpers and long twos, but it really could've been much, much worse. And when Aldridge did shoot them, he hit at 42.7 percent, which is quite acceptable.

Now we'll have to wait and see where Aldridge goes from here. Maybe now that he's more comfortable with the system and his teammates, PATFO will look to extend the boundaries of his game and let him shoot more from three-point range, like he did in 2014-15 when he made 37-of-105 for 35.2 percent.

I think for the first season with a new team Pop mostly took a K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) approach with his new star, but next year Aldridge will likely be even more of a focal point in the attack and they'll have to find creative ways for him to get his touches in space. Not only am I looking for Aldridge to shoot more threes, but for him to be more involved as a passer too. They really have to unlock all his skills and there's more there to be tapped. Even though he's not in his athletic prime anymore, I still think we're only scratching the surface with Aldridge, and I look for him to be even better next season, across the board.

Now, we just need to wait and see who his teammates are going to be.