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LaMarcus Aldridge’s absence revealed his importance to the Spurs

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The Spurs struggled without Aldridge and immediately improved when he returned. Are there any important lessons for the team to learn about its star big man or the center position in general? The PtR staff discusses.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Right before the season was suspended, the Spurs secured a very encouraging win: LaMarcus Aldridge’s return to action after missing six games in which the team really struggled inside.

What did we learn about the Spurs in LaMarcus Aldridge’s absence that we didn’t know already? Are there any lessons the front office should keep in mind going forward?

Marilyn Dubinski: Considering Gregg Popovich has always been keen on having a center on the court — and if anything has been slower than most to move to small ball — I think he still knows that centers (or at least someone with the size and strength to protect the rim and battle for every rebound) are still vital to the game. The Rockets’ honeymoon of playing super small/center-less ball with winning outcomes only lasted so long, and before the hiatus they had lost four of five games to longer, more athletic teams, but not necessarily more talented ones. (Sound familiar?) If any lessons were learned, maybe the Spurs will consider having more that two players capable of playing center on the roster in the future, but overall I don’t think anything was learned that they didn’t already know or believe in.

Mark Barrington: Gee, I was on a boat most of the last week. A lot of stuff happened when I was gone. But I think I can answer this one. LaMarcus is the best and most important player on this team, and none of the other bigs currently on the roster are ready to produce yet at the NBA level. Poeltl is intriguing, but he needs to improve on offense to be a consistent rotation player instead of only being playable in certain matchups.

LaMarcus was sort of one-dimensional when he first joined the Silver and Black, it that he could only produce if he got to his spot on the court and got the ball served to him, but he’s become more versatile. He can score from anywhere, and while he’s not an elite dribbler or passer, he’s good enough to create his own offense if he needs to. He’s not quick enough to be an elite defender, but he’s good in the paint and he has enough length and quick hands to be a good rim protector. He’s not the prototypical leader-type, as he’s kind of introverted, but the Spurs have some experience with quiet guys leading the team, and he good at it. I think the major lesson is that LaMarcus needs to be on the roster, but he needs more quick guys around him for the team to become a contender. Some of those guys are already on the team, Derrick White and Dejounte Murray are going to get better, more confident and more consistent, but they also need to get a player who can contribute right away in the draft this summer. They may need to trade up to get that player.

Bruno Passos: We learned that, contrary to what some have said the last few years, being without Aldridge isn’t addition by subtraction. (Neither is losing DeRozan for what it’s worth.) Talent still matters, even in the absence of a perfect fit, and both players are meaningful difference makers in a vacuum and in suboptimal situations.

Moving forward, hopefully the greater lessons the team has learned came from earlier in the year and by observing how those two pieces fit with each other and with the young guys coming up. I’m not sure that will get any better as either is another year older.

Jesus Gomez: We learned that Drew Eubanks is not ready for rotation minutes and that the Spurs don’t trust Chimezie Metu with center minutes yet.

Eubanks tries hard and can occasionally make plays, but he might just be too small to battle on the boards and not talented enough on other areas to make up for it. He will no longer be eligible for a two-way contract next season, so it might be best to just part ways with him. The same applies to Metu, who seems too slim to battle against centers and tends to drift to the perimeter on offense. At least I’m assuming that’s why he didn’t get minutes in such a desperate time, which doesn’t bode well for his chances to return next season.

The Spurs might just need to find new big man prospects, because if the two they carried this season couldn’t help cover the center spot better than Rudy Gay, they might just not be long term rotation players.

J.R. Wilco: We learned that (as poor as San Antonio has played this season) they can be far worse when they have to go without LMA. They’re not necessarily a better team without DmDr at this time (I’d dub them not-quite-playoff-ready), but without Aldridge they’re one of the worst teams in the league. As frustrated as some fans get with him, the stretch of games he missed against poor teams should make it obvious that he was a major factor in keeping the Spurs in the postseason hunt through 61 games. Thanks, big guy.