As NBA playoffs approach, Aldridge finds his groove with Spurs
LaMarcus Aldridge’s union with the Spurs last summer was something rarely seen in San Antonio, a big-money free agent being pursued by a franchise that prides itself on not having to chase anyone during the annual bonanza.
Armed with a rising young star in Kawhi Leonard and three ageless veterans who have won four championships together but need help now more than ever, the Spurs deviated from that long-held plan and went after the premier name on the market.
When Aldridge chose them, everyone expected the assimilation to take time for both sides. And as the playoffs near, it should come as no surprise that the player and the team are starting to find a groove.
“It takes time,” said guard Manu Ginobili, who along with Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are the mainstays that the Spurs have built around for more than a decade. “Many times before we added role players, so they’ve just got to adjust to us and they’ll figure it out or not.
“With him it’s different because we’ve got to adjust to him, too, along with him adjusting to us. We’ve just got to know him, we’ve got to make him feel good, important. And, of course, he’s so talented.”
Aldridge’s averages in points (17.7), field goal attempts (14.0) and minutes (30.4) are the lowest since his rookie season in 2006-07. But he is having one of the most efficient seasons of his career in Gregg Popovich’s ball-sharing offense.
And while his numbers have been down compared to where they were as a featured player in Portland, they have spiked over the last month. Over his last 21 games, Aldridge is averaging 21.6 points on 55 percent shooting to help the Spurs (57-10) stay on Golden State’s heels in the West with another showdown coming this weekend.
“I think it’s been a mutual effort from Coach Pop and all the veterans and LaMarcus to step to each other,” Spurs assistant Ettore Messina said. “Nobody rushed him. There was a lot of step-by-step attitude. Every day he feels more comfortable and guys know where to find him, where are his sweet spots. He’s also giving us a defensive presence that most of the times goes underrated.”
Perhaps even more telling, Aldridge has played at least 34 minutes six times in the last 12 games on a team that likes to keep everyone under 30 minutes per game and only has had one of the rest days that Popovich likes to give his veterans to keep them fresh for the playoffs.
“Before this little stretch I was playing 28-29 minutes,” Aldridge said. “I’m actually enjoying the 36, 37-minute nights. That’s what I like to do out there.”
This 21-game surge for Aldridge comes after a four-game stretch in which his failed to reach double digits in scoring three times, unheard of for a player so used to being the focal point of the offense during nine seasons with the Trail Blazers.
“I think everybody’s been welcoming to everybody else,” Aldridge said. “There hasn’t been any rushing or any pressure on anyone to play at a certain level. That’s been good for us all.”
The Spurs are 33-0 at home heading into Thursday’s game against his old team, which has been one of the surprises in the league this year as GM Neil Olshey, coach Terry Stotts and star Damian Lillard have helped the Blazers avoid the long rebuild that often comes with a star player’s exit.
After a period of adjustment, and right on time, the Spurs and Aldridge are putting it all together as well.
“He draws so much attention,” Ginobili said. “And everybody is so concerned about him that it opens up space for everybody else. He’s been an amazing addition.”