Quick question: name the second and third best players on the San Antonio Spurs. No. Don’t say, “Kawhi Leonard” because he’s only been available for nine games this season. And it doesn’t look like he’s coming back anytime soon. Is it Patty Mills? A decent point guard, averaging below 10 points a game this season? Or how about Tony Parker, currently averaging his lowest assists per game in his seventeen-year career. From top to bottom the Spurs roster is made out of… ok NBA players, largely ineffectual and wouldn’t move the needle for most franchises. After striking out in last summer, signing extension contracts to both aging big men Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, many were perplexed as to why the Spurs tied themselves to this current core who clearly maxed out their potential the year prior.
It felt as if the sun set on the Spurs Empire. Twenty-years of excellence wasn’t enough to woo Chris Paul into coming. Aldridge made his displeasures towards the organization known, asking to be traded. Humbled by this, Popovich did what most coaches would never even consider: he apologized to Aldridge, taking full responsibility for his down-year in 2016-17, where Aldridge fell from a 3rd Team All-NBA player, to looking like a complete has-been. Yet, it hasn’t been fun to watch as the Spurs have been even more uninteresting then they’ve been stereotyped to be in the past. An unfamiliarity with the players on the court, the ability of Popovich to get just enough out of these no-names to squeak by is nothing short of magnificent.
Instead of going in the tank (like I advocated, earlier in the season) they stayed the course and are 43-31. Aldridge carries a team of net zeroes, he’s fifth in two-point field goals made (588), 12th in points per game (23.2), 18th in usage% (29.2), 7th in win shares (9.8) and a 6.2 net rating. Enjoying a career-high in effective field-goal percentage (51.9), offensive rating (117), P.E.R (24.8), this is Aldridge most productive season as the vocal point of the entire offense since his last season in Portland. The year he made All-NBA Second Team. The moment Aldridge got on my radar was the dynamic performance against Utah – the best defensive in the NBA. Raining mid-range jumpers over Rudy Gobert without any regard for him as a human being. Twenty-eight of his forty-five points coming at Gobert’s expense. Playing mostly an old school style, using his elbows to back down his defender, letting loose a beautiful tear drop finger roll, or a mean step back.
Since the All-Star break, Aldridge’s been cranking out 26 points, off of 53.3% shooting, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and an ORtg Of 122 in thirteen-games.
Yet, the Spurs are still not remotely interesting. This season is very reminiscent of the 2006 Patriots, when the best days of the initial run of dominance is coming to a close and a revamping of the roster should be imminent. Just like Brady, Aldridge is given nothing to work with, the infrastructure of Popovich leading to many victories that shouldn’t be. Outside of San Antonio, this season won’t be fondly remembered. The drama off the court surrounding Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs team doctors garners the most attention of the media, me, and fans.