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LaMarcus Aldridge finally shooting 3s could be a game-changer for the Spurs

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To everyone’s surprise, Aldridge is extending his range past the three-point line. The PtR staff discusses what it means for the Spurs this season and moving forward.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

LaMarcus Aldridge is taking and converting three-pointers now. Assuming he continues to be a consistent outside threat, how much more valuable, if at all, does that make him to the Spurs not only this season but moving forward?

Marilyn Dubinski: It definitely makes him more valuable in the short term. It helps spread out the starters, allows DeMar DeRozan more room to operate in his sweet spots, and opens up the paint for more driving and pick-and-rolls. The non-corner threes also give him less distance to travel to get back on defense, which is what allowed Pau Gasol to remain a solid rim protector even well past his prime — before foot injuries set in. Beyond that, it’s hard to say if it makes the Spurs a much better team in the long term. A lot of that depends on whether Gregg Popovich uses it to open the playbook, adjust line-ups to cover other areas of weakness, etc. As the loss to the Thunder showed, Aldridge’s outside shot is an added bonus, but there is still a lot of other problems that need fixing for this team to reach another level.

Mark Barrington: It’s huge, because it improves the spacing and opens up the offense. I don’t have a lot of hope that DeMar DeRozan will ever develop as a legitimate three point threat, but he is definitely becoming a foot-on-the-line two point threat, and those two things together will open up the lane for Dejounte Murray and Derrick White to either get layups or pass the ball to open shooters. With just one (or zero) outside threat(s) on the court, it’s hard to stretch defenses, but this should help. I think we’ve already seen some impact as the offensive efficiency has improved over the last month. Another benefit is the one that LaMarcus himself mentioned, the additional range will limit the punishment that he takes in the paint, which should extend his career. Not into the Vince Carter range, but maybe into his late 30s.

Bruno Passos: The impact is probably more interesting on the team as a whole rather than in his individual numbers, but it’s an increase in value either way. Let’s say you turn 2 postups (in which he averages around 0.91 points per possession) into jumpers. Assuming he makes those at a little under his clip this season, that’s an extra 0.6 points per game. Maybe he continues to swap out long-two pick and pops for threes and you may get a theoretical scoring average that’s 1 to 1.5 points higher than his current 19.5 per game.

I’m more curious as to how it opens things up for the team with lineup-building, as a floor-stretching Aldridge may diminish the need for, say, a Bryn Forbes, and allow Pop to roll out a two-way threat that can not only defend at a much higher level but be more of a dual threat with the ball in his hands — something that may fit better within a true five-out offense.

Jesus Gomez: It makes him a lot more valuable because it makes him a lot more versatile. Beyond the obvious and significant improvement to the starting unit’s spacing that having another outside threat provides, Aldridge’s willingness to take threes makes him a much tougher matchup for opponents. If they play a stout post defender to prevent him from scoring on the block, he can just float to the perimeter and get shots up that way. One of the big issues with Aldridge on offense this season has been how prone to disappearing for long stretches he could be when the guards, limited in their play-making ability, couldn’t find him inside or opponents doubled him. Now he has another tool to either get going offensively or at least not harm the offense despite being inactive by at least drawing an opposing big out of the paint. It’s a big development for the Spurs.

That said, I’m not sure if he makes him all that more valuable going forward. Aldridge is looking about as mobile as late-career Pau Gasol right now on defense, and that’s only going to get worse as he ages. Shooting threes won’t help him much on that end, beyond maybe allowing him to not get beaten by his man down the floor as often. Even if Aldridge becomes a marksman, his role should probably be reduced as soon as next season and I’m not sure it would make a lot of sense for the Spurs to try to retain him once his contract is up.

J.R. Wilco: He’s more valuable if only because of a single play that every guard on the team is comfortable with and capable of executing at a high percentage. (The video below should load to 3:28.)

Running a PnR far from the basket but letting LMA pop for a jumper is a recipe for Spurs success. The more often they run this and punish the defense for letting Aldridge shoot, the more room the guards will have and then you’re talking about a defense truly not knowing what to defend — that’s when things get fun.

Of course there will be advantages in future years as LaMarcus continues to age, but his newfound comfort with the three-ball won’t require the long view to start paying dividends.