As the season moves along, the line is blurring ever so slightly between the Spurs’ typically iso-heavy starters and the free-flowing reserves. Not only has Gregg Popovich found success in blending key players from both units for some fun hybrid lineups, but his two go-to stars have taken on dual roles on offense as scorers and creators. While DeMar DeRozan established himself early as the team’s best playmaker, the greater surprise might be LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s averaged 3.4 assists over his last 20 games and continues to grow more as a distributor in his fourth year in San Antonio.
When you ask Pop about a high-assist night, he’ll occasionally shrug it off with “guys hit their shots” — and some of that certainly tracks. As long as San Antonio is pacing the league in three-point shooting at 40.9%, the players feeding the shooters are guaranteed to see a boost in their owns stats. Aldridge has certainly been a part of that, but he’s also on pace to post by far his best passing numbers as a Spur (he’s at 2.6 assists per game; his previous best was 2.0, which came last season) because of an increased comfort level in the offense and some new wrinkles to how they use him.
Aldridge will never be Nikola Jokic, but he’s passing better out of double teams than we’ve seen since he arrived in San Antonio while leading the league in post-ups for a second season in a row. Not only is he reading the help defense and finding the open man, he’s hitting the right shooters at the right spots, an important component of the intuitive logic of the Spurs’ 6th ranked offense.
When he’s not on the block, a number of Aldridge’s assists have come off simple dribble hand-offs around the top of the key.
Most have come, like the above, in the flow of the offense, although set plays aren’t uncommon:
The most interesting development as of late Aldridge operating as the axis of a play that was a fixture of the Spurs’ offense last season whenever Pau Gasol was on the floor. Some of us at PtR took to calling it The Defibrillator, on account of the two-fisted vroom motion that Gregg Popovich does on the sidelines when he calls for it, while Project Spurs’ Paul Garcia noted in a breakdown of it last March that it’s likely referred to internally as Center X to Floppy. The latter part of the name comes from the off-ball action by the two wings who, after cutting and crossing towards the rim, will circle back out in various routes if the first read isn’t available. Anyway, here’s the team running it to set up a dunk for some 40-year-old:
In stepping into the Gasol role earlier this season, third-year big Jakob Poeltl has also done well as a distributor at the top of the key:
Some of the same action that they ran last year through Gasol, now through Poeltl pic.twitter.com/XHpegzjkSr— Bruno Passos (@bouncepassos) January 20, 2019
On Sunday against the Wizards, it was Aldridge orchestrating the same action:
It’s a simple enough set, but one that will make the Spurs — and Aldridge, specifically — a bit more complicated for opponents to gameplan when expectations tilt heavily towards denying him in the post or stopping DeRozan’s one-on-one game. It also shows that, for all the Spurs’ big man excels at (and, likely, still prefers) slogging games down on the low block, he can still play a role in the capital-B Beautiful brand of Spurs basketball that many fans know and love.