What Aldridge's Absence Means for the Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are the first seed in the Western Conference. Kawhi Leonard has asserted his dominance over the NBA and is now a legitimate MVP candidate with a strong chance of winning. The Spurs' reserves, as showcased a few nights ago, outclassed the Golden State Warriors second unit in a battle of the benches. Patty Mills remains a 6th Man of the Year candidate and, all the while, Pau Gasol has returned to the lineup. With so much tremendous success mounting at the turn of the All-Star break, an injury to LaMarcus Aldridge is definitely a dampening source of regression for such a promising team.
LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs' second best player and a premier power forward in the NBA, is out indefinitely with what is diagnosed as a "heart arrhythmia." For those of you unaware of such an ailment, a heart arrhythmia is when there is a malfunction of the heart's electrical system and heart chambers. This may cause irregular heart beats (the indicator in the case of LaMarcus). The Spurs are closely monitoring Aldridge, as any organization should. We have seen in recent history how minor indicators have led to more pressing health issues: as in the cases of Chris Bosh’s blood clots and Isaiah Austin’s Marfans syndrome. Clearly Aldridge doesn't seem to have a situation as severe, but one can never be so sure, especially in an open contact sport where the regularity of the heartbeat is essential to playing ability.
Aldridge has delivered a solid season thus far. Through 65 games, Aldridge has dialed in 17.3 points and 7.4 boards a game on nearly 48% shooting from the field. However, his per 36 numbers are his lowest since the 2010-2011 season. The usual 20-and-11 big man has certainly taken the backseat to Kawhi Leonard, and rightfully so, but he could also be more aggressive on the court. His usage rate is also his lowest since the 2009-2010 season. Not only does his aggression level need a minor spike, but coach Gregg Popovich needs to find a way to make Aldridge more of the premier scorer that we all know he is. His win-shares figure at 5.9 has him on pace to deliver his career average of 8.
Away from the numbers, Aldridge impacts the game on a deeper level. His flexibility in the mid-range allows cutters like Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard easy lanes to the rim, and gives Aldridge the capability of distributing to shooters on the wing like Danny Green and Patty Mills. His ability to extend his range to the 3-point line is also a huge factor when matching up against Golden State. But most importantly: he is the second best player on the team. So what will this mean for the Spurs going forward in the wake of his absence?
San Antonio has just endured a long stretch without Pau Gasol. While caliber of play is certainly one to account for, the Spurs have been up to their winning ways without a vital cog in their system. While a couple of losses are expected the Spurs should, for the most part, continue to register W's on their record with relative ease. The major setback that will come with the ailment, however, is that of chemistry. It is at this point in the season where teams begin to solidify their identity and make a push for the playoffs. Having already clinched a playoff spot last week, that is the least of their concerns, but making sure all players are clicking on the same cylinder is of paramount importance, especially when thinking big picture.
Starting in his place will most likely be a tossup between center Dewayne Dedmon and Kyle Anderson. With Dedmon, the Spurs would maintain their rebounding advantage and have a heightened sense of rim protection, relegating Pau to the 4. However, the offensive gap between Aldridge and Dedmon is considerable, which will call for guys such as Leonard, Parker, Green, and Jonathan Simmons to elevate their play and score more buckets. As it pertains to Kyle Anderson, the Spurs would have another wing that can guard positions 2-4, and would have a bit more of an outside presence in comparison to a lineup with Dedmon. However, his defense, size, and experience are all lacking — which could throw off chemistry somewhat.
Regardless, the San Antonio Spurs are behind one Gregg Popovich, and when that is the case, they will almost always be fine. Aldridge's indefinite absence will cost the Spurs, but as long as he is back right before the regular season ends, there shouldn't be any pressing issues. If he is not, however, then the Wild Wild West just got even wilder.