Commentary: Searching for LaMarcus Aldridge
Rollercoasters provide a mixed bag of emotions for those taking part in the ride. Highs, lows, thrills, frustrations and even an occasional tear shed. Well, this season the figurative roller coaster has been the play of LaMarcus Aldridge.
Throughout the season, some Spurs fans called for him to be traded, while others defended him. Despite the disagreement among fans, he managed to put together a pretty good season. There were times he appeared to have turned the corner; however, he would then seemingly revert back to what frustrated some fans.
Aldridge was also in contention to be an All-Star for the sixth time in his career. He ultimately did not make the team, and made his disapproval known in an interview with The Vertical. He believed it was wrong for the the Spurs to have only one All-Star, and had a solid argument for inclusion on the team.
Nonetheless, the Silver and Black finished with the second-best record in the league. Aldridge closed the season with averages of 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. He was second on the team in scoring and rebounding, and shot 46 percent from the floor.
Near the end of the season, he had an occurrence of a minor heart arrhythmia, which forced him to miss time. He would be cleared to play a few days later to finish out the remaining games on the schedule.
To sum up his regular season, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Unfortunately, come playoff time, his play was still incredibly inconsistent.
In the opening round series against the Memphis Grizzlies, Aldridge had a strong series, especially considering his health scare a month prior. He scored in double figures every game, and fought through some struggles on the defensive end. Overall, he played an important role in the first round.
San Antonio faced the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals, where Aldridge immediately got off to a rocky start. In Game 1, he posted four points, six rebounds and an assist in 25 minutes. Following the disaster that was Game 1, he upped his game and played like many expected him to.
In the closeout game of the series, the Spurs were missing Kawhi Leonard, who was nursing an ankle injury. However, in shocking fashion, the team looked unfazed. Aldridge stepped up to the plate and led with 34 points and 12 rebounds. Looking stronger than ever, he had all the confidence in the world heading into the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors.
In the first half of Game 1, he continued his impressive play. Then, adversity hit. Leonard re-aggravated his ankle after a controversial close out by Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, and was forced to miss the rest of the game.
Without Leonard, the time was now for Aldridge. Unfortunately, that simply was not the case. Instead of establishing and imposing himself down low, he settled for countless fadeaway jump shots, even when defended by smaller players. Golden State took complete advantage of Leonard's absence, and went on to win 113-111. In Tuesday's 136-100 loss, it was more of the same. Aldridge ended with eight points, four rebounds and three assists.
After this phenomenal game to end the semifinals, many are wondering what is with Aldridge.
Taking a closer look, his professional career started with the Portland Trailblazers, where he spent nine seasons before signing with San Antonio in 2015.
In Portland, he played a significant role in the offense. Playing alongside Damion Lillard, the duo led the Blazers to playoff appearances. As a whole, Portland was a very competitive and respectable team in the Western Conference. When he decided to leave, he wanted more. He wanted to carry a bigger load for his team, which led him to San Antonio.
So why does he shrink in the moments he came for?
To me, the answer is simple.
While he is a veteran, this is still uncharted territory for him. Until this season, Aldridge had never advanced to the Western Conference Finals. He has never had to lead a team on one of the biggest stages. Quite simply, all eyes have never been on him when the stakes have been this high. While this does not completely excuse his timidness during this series, it is something to consider.
Additionally, the expectations and standards coach Gregg Popovich has does not make the transition any easier. Playing for a coach of Pop's caliber in the playoffs is also something new for Aldridge. Putting these two aspects together is a lot to digest, especially for someone that is appearing on this stage for the first time in their career.
Even though he left Portland for this exact moment, you never know how hard something is until you are forced to do it. And sometimes, it is more than what you bargained for. This could be the case for Aldridge.
If this is indeed the problem, he just needs to have a gut check. He needs to realize he is 6'11, is an important piece to this team and has the skill to lead the Spurs when he is needed.