Spurs-Warriors: Depleted San Antonio can't afford Aldridge to fade away in Game 2
LaMarcus Aldridge has become the most important player to the Spurs success. It’s not a role that many expected him to have before the playoffs started, but recent events have thrust responsibility on to him. San Antonio’s best player, and MVP candidate, Kawhi Leonard is sidelined with an ankle injury. The importance of Leonard can not be understated. He has the highest usage rate, does the most on both sides of the ball and has largely been what makes their system work. Not having him is a heavy loss.
However, the loss of Leonard is even worse when considering that Tony Parker is out for the remainder of the playoffs with a quad injury. When San Antonio wasn’t putting the ball in Leonard’s hands they typically had it in Parker’s. The Spurs used both players’ ability to drive to the rim as a threat to create the rest of their offense. They do have players like Patty Mills that can re-create that within reason, but losing their two most frequent drivers has to be having an impact.
This is where Aldridge comes in. Without those two, the Spurs need someone to put the ball in their hands and do something with it. Lately, he’s been the one the Spurs have gone to and the results are mixed. His highest point totals include 26 in Game 3 against Houston, 34 in a Game 6 elimination of Houston and he was very good in the first half (scoring 17 of his 24 points) of Game 1 against the Warriors. However, that second-half performance for Aldridge (4-of-13) is the perfect summary of what his playoffs have been like. Great in moments, but inconsistent overall.
With two key offensive pieces gone, the Spurs desperately need Aldridge to step up and be a star-level player for them, or at worst a more consistent one. He can’t play the way he did against Memphis, turn around and have a good series against Houston, only to fall apart in the second half of Game 1 against Golden State. That is when the Spurs offense sputters, and against a team like Golden State, that will lead to quick deficits.
One of the ways Aldridge can find this consistency is in his jump shot. Before coming to San Antonio he was largely a face up-type player and his jumper was sound. Yet in these playoffs, it’s been an inconsistent shot for him and his downfall. He frequently fades away from the basket, unnecessarily making his shot more difficult, or he’ll fail to post up a smaller player and take a turnaround jumper. These are the worst possible shots he can take considering he’s 7-for-19 on turnaround jumpers in the playoffs. There’s a common theme among these types of plays and it typically involves Aldridge attempting to post up his defender.
He struggles with contact-heavy players. Vince Carter and Zach Randolph pushed Aldridge around in the first round, forcing him to create on the fly. When that happens it’s a complete and total disaster for the Spurs, especially if it’s in isolation. Aldridge is strongest when he quickly moves into what he wants to do, whether that’s posting up or taking a fade away jumper. One, two dribbles max, and then he attacks. However, physical defenders have a tendency to bump him off his spot and force bad shots. This happened late against Golden State where Aldridge chose to pass up a wide-open long two for a contested fadeaway.
Patty Mills and Aldridge run a hand-off play for Mills, who takes possession and begins his drive. Draymond Green follows Mills to contain him, which results in a kickout to Aldridge. While a long two isn’t the best option here, Aldridge wouldn’t have to worry about his shot being contested by Green because he’s simply taller. However, he chooses to instead go challenge Green in the post and is immediately bounced off.
Green rotates over and stone walls the driving Aldridge with no issues. The situation is immediately worse than what it had been previously with Aldridge completely contested and unable to post up Green in any way. He immediately pulls out and shoots a turnaround fadeaway with Green all over him.
This shot is far worse than the one Mills had given Aldridge and it has to do with him trying to do too much on his own. When Aldrige starts driving toward the rim, doing quick post ups, and then fading away it leads to results like this. His moves have to be precise and with purpose. This feels like Aldridge was trying to move away from the open look to take the more difficult shot.
Green’s physicality is what won against Aldridge. He kept him from getting anywhere near the paint in the first place, and once Aldridge met that physicality he immediately went to his fadeaway. This is what the Warriors wanted and it’s a large part of why he struggled so much in the second half. Aldridge makes shots harder on himself. In this same game he dribbled out of a Curry-Green switch and instead of taking advantage of Curry he dribbled back into Green and let them swtich back. He also faded away on a spot up baseline jumper. These plays are actively hurting the San Antonio offense.
Aldridge might be one of those players that’s more comfortable fading on his jump shots than he is shooting a normal one. Even if that’s the case he has to make stronger and quicker decisions when the ball in his hands. Letting himself be pushed around, dribbling into bad situations and making shots harder for himself is why he’s inconsistent right now.
When Aldridge isn’t hesitating and has his shot going he becomes a huge problem for even the strongest defenses. However, if he keeps making the defense’s job easier then he’ll never be the force that San Antonio needs from him. If Aldridge continues to play this way without Leonard the Spurs will not survive long in this series. Aldridge is their most important player right now. They need him to meet those expectations and play like a star. Or else this series won’t last long.