Without Kawhi Leonard, The Spurs Need More Out Of LaMarcus Aldridge
- After the injury to Kawhi Leonard, there was no doubt the Warriors were going to win Game 2 against the Spurs. But that doesn’t mean San Antonio shouldn’t expect more from its highest-paid player.
Let’s get all the caveats out of the way first. There was no way—barring a scientific disaster or a freaky friday-esque body swap situation—the Warriors were going to lose Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. Golden State pounded San Antonio to the tune of 136–100 Tuesday, and the Dubs did so on the back of what is the greatest collection of talent on a single NBA team in the 21st century, and maybe the last 30 years. The Warriors are unrelenting, unconcerned and unfair. They have no remorse in embarrassing teams on the court, and with the Spurs entering Game 2 wounded, Golden State was more than happy to put them out of their misery.
Having said all of that, is it awful to want a little bit more from LaMarcus Aldridge?
Look, you can’t blame the Spurs’ Game 2 loss on one guy. (Well, maybe you can blame it on Zaza Pachulia.) San Antonio simply didn’t have the firepower to compete with Golden State on Tuesday, and all the effort in the world would not have been enough to offset the disparity in talent—especially with the Warriors a little extra motivated after facing some criticism for their Game 1 performance. Still, when your star player goes down, you need someone to step up. And for the Spurs, that player should be Aldridge, who is being paid a max salary to be the team’s second star. Aldridge responded well the first time Kawhi Leonard missed a game in the playoffs, but on Tuesday, he delivered a dud when needed most.
Even Gregg Popovich, who usually protects Aldridge publicly, expressed some frustration after the game.
“LaMarcus has got to score for us. He can't be timid. He turned down shots,” Pop said. “He's got a major responsibility in Game 3.”
Aldridge’s numbers during the playoffs are nearly in lockstep with his per game averages during the regular season, but his inconsistency has been maddening, not only from game to game, but sometimes from possession to possession. Aldridge has shot at least 48% from the field—his regular season average—in only five out of 14 postseason games in 2017, mixing in some real clunkers along the way. Tuesday, Aldridge could muster only eight points in 27 minutes, a disturbingly low total for a team that desperately needed scoring in Leonard’s absence.
Gone is the Aldridge of Portland past who was a menace on both the block and the elbow, with a midrange J that was too tall for anyone to defend. Instead, Aldridge has often been bottled up by one defender, starting with Zach Randolph against Memphis, somehow by Ryan Anderson against Houston, and now often by Draymond Green. Aldridge is the kind of player who should demand a double team in the post, instead he seems to have lost his touch around the rim, and he too often settles for frustrating fadeaways instead of going up strong.
Even in Game 1, when Aldridge scored 28 points on 11–24 shooting, he faded down the stretch, hitting only two of his nine shots in the fourth, including a potential game-tying three. Is the player who once cooked Dwight Howard for an entire playoff series really never coming back?
Ultimately, it’s unreasonable to pin the Spurs’ struggles on Aldridge. San Antonio is probably looking at a 1–1 series right now—at worst—if Leonard didn’t injure his ankle during Game 1. But it’s also not completely unfair to expect a tiny bit more from the player who was supposed to serve as somewhat of a bridge from Tim Duncan to the next era of Spurs basketball.
Even if Aldridge comes back to have the series of his life against the Warriors, it won’t mean anything if the Spurs are missing Leonard. Still, if everyone is expected to pick up the slack in Leonard’s absence, it has to start with San Antonio’s other star.