Now, with the 2015-16 season upon us, Aldridge and the Spurs must prove they can work together. And lest anyone underestimate how tricky that task will be, consider this from Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, filed mere hours before opening night: "Any team, regardless of system, would love to line up a player like Aldridge, a 20-point per game scorer in each of the last five seasons. Still, Popovich didn’t think it would be a seamless transition. He still doesn’t."
So if you're still uncertain about how this whole thing is going to work, don't fret. The best coach in the league is, too.
That's not to say the Spurs-Aldridge union is destined for failure. Far from it, actually.
Let's Talk About Offense
It's natural: You add a ball-dominant, big-time scorer to an offense known for whipping the rock around the perimeter in search of great looks (regardless of who's taking them), and you expect friction.
Fortunately for the Spurs, Aldridge isn't the ball-stopper many believe him to be.
According to NBA.com, more than half of Aldridge's shots last season came within two seconds of receiving the ball. And less than five percent of his shots came after holding the ball for more than six seconds. Summation: Aldridge is definitely a shot-happy player (his usage rate of 30.2 percent ranked seventh in the league in 2014-15; no Spurs player had one above 25 percent, per Basketball-Reference.com), but he's a decisive one.
That could matter more than ever for this year's Spurs because recent evidence suggests Tony Parker, now 33, isn't the same chaos generator he once was. And if Parker—slowed by a hamstring last year and noticeably lacking burst in FIBA EuroBasket play over the summer—can't get into the lane at will anymore, the Spurs may need another source of offense.
That's where Aldridge can help.
Because if Parker can't generate easy buckets like this:
It's not bad to have this as a fallback option when the offense bogs down late in the shot clock:
The Spurs will continue to emphasize ball movement because it's what they do. And even if Parker can't break down defenses like he once could, we should expect to see enough perfect screens, cuts and backdoor passes to create many of the same effects.
Aldridge will play a part in all of those areas, and it's important to note that his two most frequently used play types last year (post-ups and spot-ups) are perfectly fine in San Antonio's system.
|Aldridge and the Spurs Like the Same Things|
|2014-15 Season||Post-Up Rate||Post-Up PPP||Spot-Up Rate||Spot-Up PPP|
|Spurs||9.6% (9)||.90 (5)||22.9% (2)||1.04 (4)|
The Spurs used 22.9 percent of their offensive possessions on spot-up shots and 9.6 percent on post-ups last season, according to NBA.com. Those rates ranked second and ninth in the league, respectively. In terms of efficiency, they ranked fourth and fifth.
Aldridge used 36.5 percent of his possessions in the post and scored at a higher rate than the Spurs did as a team last season. And despite not shooting many threes (just 105 on the year), he still came close to matching San Antonio's rate of points per play on spot-ups.
In addition to sharing play-type preferences with his new team, Aldridge also operates in areas of the floor where the Spurs offense hasn't typically been as effective. Look at his shot chart from last year:
And compare it to San Antonio's team chart:
Aldridge loves the left side of the floor, and based on the Spurs' relative ineffectiveness in that area, they should be happy to cede it to him.
Aldridge offers San Antonio a new weapon—one that can function as part of a system and serve as a darn good last resort. This is going to work.
Oh Yeah: Defense!
It's actually easier to see Aldridge fitting in on defense than offense in San Antonio, even if you have to take it more on faith than raw data.
Though one source of worry might be the dip in rim protection that comes with swapping out Tiago Splitter (traded to the Atlanta Hawks) for Aldridge, it's difficult to imagine a team that still has Tim Duncan in the middle and Popovich orchestrating schemes on the sidelines will suddenly allow a parade to the bucket.
There's also this from Grantland's Zach Lowe: "Aldridge and Splitter are the same height, and Splitter isn’t exactly a leaper; opponents shot better at the basket when Splitter was nearby last season than against Portland with Aldridge at the bucket, per SportVU data."
Sure, Splitter was hampered by a bad calf last season, but if Aldridge represents an improvement over what San Antonio got from him defensively, shouldn't we expect the Spurs' defensive rating (which ranked third overall last year) to at least hold steady in 2015-16?
Aldridge doesn't have to be better than a fully healthy Splitter to improve San Antonio's defense. He just has to be better than the banged-up version that played 52 gimpy games last year. That's not too much to ask.
There's more to playing defense than protecting the rim. Aldridge will have to acclimate himself to the Spurs' pick-and-roll preferences, learn rotations and adjust to different terminology. But those are all things a veteran All-Star should be able to handle with minimal effort.
Just in case, Popovich has made sure Aldridge's time on the court comes with a tutor/safety blanket/historically great defensive big man, according to Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "Popovich has found ways in practice, too. He has consistently paired Duncan with Aldridge, keeping them together as a unit, when Popovich usually likes to mix and match."
Pop has a plan, and if you don't think he's eventually going to figure this out—on both ends—you probably haven't been watching him work for the past couple of decades.
A Mutually Beneficial Relationship
The Spurs have what Aldridge wants: a clear, familiar path to a title.
Aldridge has what the Spurs need: star-level talent that can fit into a system now and extend the championship window into the next era.
So even if laboring over the potential complications can get scary, even if there's a nonzero chance we'll see some friction on one end of the floor or the other, keep those two facts in mind. Because as tricky as some of the machinations might seem now, the underlying truth is that both Aldridge and the Spurs are profoundly motivated to make this work.
In the end, that'll matter more than anything else.
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