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How Gregg Popovich convinced LaMarcus Aldridge to shoot more threes

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Pop let Aldridge find his own groove from the arc, and both knew when it was time to let it fly.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

LaMarcus Aldridge has always been the type of big man shooter who seemed capable of adding the three-pointer to his arsenal. His shooting stroke is pure, and his shots have enough arc to add the distance. Stretch-fives have been an ongoing trend for a while now, so it always felt like he was late to the show.

Gregg Popovich had approached him about shooting more threes last summer, but he still wasn’t taking them on a regular basis once the regular season rolled around. As Christmas approached, the Spurs offense was completely stagnant and needed to shake things up. That’s when Pop approached Aldridge again, as ESPN’s Zach Lowe explains in this week’s “Ten Things” article (that for some reason only features eight), headlined by the revamping of the Spurs offense in no small part thanks to Aldridge.

In mid-December, Popovich met with Aldridge again. It was time, the coach said.

”We had a couple of bad shooting games, and Pop came to me and said, ‘I think you need to start shooting it to open up the floor,’” Aldridge said. “It would give DeMar DeRozan more room. So I just started doing it.”

For reasons Aldridge can’t quite explain, he felt ready. He knows the transition came more slowly than fans hoped — slower than for Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, and Brook Lopez.

“It has taken me longer than those guys,” Aldridge said. “I just had to do it my way.” Part of that involves taking the occasional off-the-dribble 3 — including a few step-backs. Aldridge just likes that rhythm dribble. Popovich doesn’t mind. “He’s letting me shoot them my way,” Aldridge said.

. . .

“I had to reprogram my mind: ‘Don’t take that step in,’” Aldridge said. “‘Space to the 3. Don’t trail inside for a 2.’”

As we have all seen since then, the offense has risen up, bringing the Spurs as a whole along with it — or at least as far as their still-a-work-in-progress defense (to put it mildly) will allow them to. DeRozan has found his groove within the Spurs system now that he has room to operate. Since December 23, they are outscoring opponents by 8.8 points per 100 possessions when their star duo shares floor. Before that, the pairing had been an overall negative in their season-plus together.

With Aldridge now shooting threes at will (and he has the green light from Pop to shoot as many as he wants, however he wants), more line-up possibilities are available, including some that could also help the defense. The pairing Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl shouldn’t clog the offense as much, and then there’s perhaps the one most Spurs fans are clamoring for: replacing Bryn Forbes in the starting line-up with a more defensively-capable guard such as Derrick White or Lonnie Walker IV.

Time will tell, but adjustments are being made. Even if it’s not at the pace some fans want, this is a good reminder that the players are human beings, and adjustments fans want to see do in fact take time and affect how the players do their job. It requires patience and practice to happen. Sometimes, that patience is rewarded.