One of the biggest questions the Spurs will have to answer as they start next season is whether the style of play they adopted in the bubble is sustainable with LaMarcus Aldridge available. The more free-flowing, perimeter-oriented attack we saw in Orlando simply doesn’t seem to fit Aldridge’s tendencies, which means he’ll have to adjust.
Luckily, he appears ready to do just that. The veteran big man has said all the right things so far while his teammates have made it clear that they think having him back will help the team. Now, all that’s left to figure out is how Aldridge could fit in the offense. Some small tweaks in the way he’s used should help a lot.
Taking a step back to the three-point line on pick and pops would make Aldridge more dangerous
One of the biggest requirements of the new version of Aldridge will be to provide more three-point shooting, something he started to do last season. The hope is that he will not only thrive as spot up shooter but also as a pick and pop threat. Aldridge has always been fantastic in that setting because opponents have to respect his elite mid-range jumper, but by taking a step further into the perimeter, he could be even more dangerous.
By setting picks a little higher up the floor than usual or simply making sure he pops beyond the arc, LMA could force his defender to leave his drop coverage, which could open up driving lanes for the ball handlers. If the big stays in the paint, a simple pass to the perimeter could leave Aldridge with enough room to fire or with the possibility to drive past a defender desperately running at him to close the gap. If there’s a switch, he can just post up. Al Horford has mastered the art of the pick and pop three, which has made him a matchup nightmare for traditional bigs to guard. Aldridge could do the same.
The Spurs should simply not abandon pick and pops featuring Aldridge completely, since they have proved to work. All they need is to turn most of the mid-range jumpers that resulted from them into three-point attempts. By doing so they’ll keep Aldridge involved in the offense while giving their middling playmakers easy shot creation opportunities and space to work. At best, the result will be an open three by Aldridge. At worse, he can simply go into a dribble hand-off on the weak side to keep the defense moving.
If Aldridge needs mid-range shots to get in rhythm, they shouldn’t come from post ups
Even if Aldridge is completely on board with a change in role, it will take him a while to adjust. The 35-year-old has spent most of his career as either the first or second option, so asking him to suddenly only take open threes or layups could backfire. There will be times when LA will want some touches, preferably from his favorite spots: between the mid-post and the elbow.
Once again, the Spurs should accommodate him in order to keep him engaged and motivated. But instead of feeding him the ball in the post as often as they have in the past, they could dust off an old play they used to run for their last veteran star big man who adjusted to a smaller role. In the final years of his career, Tim Duncan used to get pindowns near the post to free him for mid-range jumpers, and the same play should work for Aldridge.
The beauty of those pindowns, as opposed to post ups, is that they are quicker to set up and are more compatible with a more fluid offense. Aldridge will either get a shot from a spot he likes or will have to make simple reads to move on to another action. If the big man defender closes out on him strongly, he can pump fake and drive to the rim. If a switch occurs, he can then post up with a clear advantage. If instead the screener happens to be in a good position inside after setting the pick, LA can simply make an entry pass.
Simplifying things for Aldridge while still keeping him involved will be a must, and those simple pindowns could be extremely helpful in that regard.
Playing less but with a higher intensity could make Aldridge a better interior scorer
Last season the percentage of Aldridge’s total points coming in the paint was the second lowest in his career, after two years in which he posted some of his highest numbers in that area. The dip was mostly explained by him switching his shot profile and taking a lot more three-pointers, but unlike, say, late-career Pau Gasol, Aldridge seems to still be able to score inside. He’ll just have to make more of a concerted effort to do so than in the past.
Something that could help Aldridge immensely when it comes to inside scoring that is not dependent on playcalling is to run the floor with a purpose. He often will be counted on to rebound opponent’s misses, but whenever someone else gets the carom, he should try to beat his man down the floor to get an easy buckets either as a trailer in transition or by securing good position near the basket in order to duck in, seal his man and get a quick shot up.
Normally, running the floor consistently would be a problem for star players who log heavy minutes, and as it can result in fatigue. In this case, however, that shouldn’t be a huge concern since at age 35, Aldridge’s minutes should start trending down, and the Spurs have a quality backup on a now onerous contract ready for more playing time. Having Jakob Poeltl ready to step in should allow Aldridge to go all out, especially in transition, to get some get some buckets near the rim. The coaching staff should make it a priority to encourage him to do so.
For Aldridge, adjusting to a new role will have a lot to do with his mindset. He has the skills to be a floor spacer and opportunistic scorer instead of a featured option that operates out of the post, but it will take him a while to get used to playing differently.
The Spurs can help make that transformation smoother by making sure Aldridge remains involved in the offense, but in slightly different ways. If they do that and Aldridge uses the extra energy he’ll have from not having to be an offensive fulcrum on defense and in transition, he could be a perfect fit with San Antonio’s new identity.