Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
With Tim Duncan retiring after a score of years of dominance, LaMarcus Aldridge will step fully into the role of replacing the greatest player in franchise history. That is no easy task.
However, while Aldridge is not Duncan, he’s better equipped to the task more than virtually anyone would be. He has not only the skills to be a poor man’s Duncan, he has the demeanor. He’s not a prima donna, but he’s the same kind of low-key, hard-working presence that Duncan was. The Spurs tapped the right man for the continuity, and now the question is how he’ll perform in his first year sans “The Big Fundamental.”
Last year, Aldridge averaged 18.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. When he played with Duncan, he averaged 19.6 points and 9.8 boards per 36 minutes. According to NBA.com, when he played without the greatest power forward in the history of the world, he averaged 22.8 points and 10.3 boards per 36 minutes. After the break when he played sans Duncan, he averaged 23.2 points and 10.4 boards per 36 while shooting 54.8 percent from the field.
That shows us two things. First, he played like a top-tier player when he was without Duncan. And second, he improved as the season went along and he adjusted to the offense. With a full year under his belt, and the team belonging to him and Kawhi Leonard next year, expect him to post numbers similar to that second half. If he does, he’ll be an All-NBA player.
Here’s the catch, though. While the Spurs lost Duncan, they added another future Hall of Famer in Pau Gasol, who is likely to take away some of the touches that Aldridge would have inherited with the departure of Duncan. That, though, needs to be balanced with the departure of David West and Boris Diaw. Both Aldridge’s floor and ceiling will be determined by his touches, and that’s a bit of a mystery. Only God and Gregg Popovich know the answer to that.
The really nice thing about Aldridge is he can score at the rim (70.8 percent) or from mid-range (42.6 percent). He scored 430 points on post-ups last year, most in the NBA, and he scored 1.00 points per possession on those, which placed him in the 84.3 percentile. He’s also effective cutting to the basket (1.43 PPP, 85.9 percentile).
He’s a well-rounded, fundamental player, kind of like that guy he’s replacing.
There were some concerns about the defense when Aldridge arrived, and whether the Spurs would miss Tiago Splitter. That fear turned out to be unfounded. The Spurs went on to be one of the best defenses in the history of the league. While that wasn’t because of Aldridge, it wasn’t in spite of him, either. The Spurs gave up 1.1 more points per 100 possessions while he was on the court, but the defensive rating was still a very stingy 97.1 when he played. Opponents shot 2.3 percent worse when he was the closest defender on the play, and his Defensive Real Plus-Minus was 1.49, which placed him 21st among 94 power forwards.
All this is to say that while he’s not an elite defender, he’s competent enough to play big minutes on an elite defense.