By: S. Davis
Has anyone actually bothered to watch the San Antonio Spurs play this season; as in truly paid attention to the action on the floor? I’m not talking about the monumental statistical leap that Kawhi Leonard took this year. No. Which reminds me, I vividly recall the majority of talking heads around the sport questioning the Spurs’ future with him as the offensive fulcrum for the next decade, I do. We all knew his defense was established.
Fast-forward this year and now, everyone, predicted this surge from the best two-way player in the league? (LeBron James remains the best player in the world when he’s tasked with defending the opposition’s best threat.) This piece isn’t about Leonard though – at least not as the primary focus. This is directly in response to all the chatter surrounding LaMarcus Aldridge.
Of all noise surrounding Texas, from fans and analysts, I find it compelling that the Spurs’ “system” has escaped all criticism. Where’s the depth within the sets? Where’s the ball movement? Where are the quick passes and off-ball action that made the Miami Heat crumble in 2014? Has anyone seen the selective and effective post touches to hurt defenders in the frontcourt who have abandoned sound post defense because the league is pulling “bigs” further away from the basket every year? Where’s the style of play that influenced Steve Kerr to cook up a version of his own to feed to his Golden State Warriors?
It doesn’t exist. At least not in the form we’ve been accustomed to seeing.
By the time I publish this, Aldridge may be packing up his home on the way to another franchise that will use his skills as incorrectly as the Spurs have. I’ve liked him since his time at Texas and I’ve always felt he was underrated. When the Spurs signed him I was excited to see the partnership with Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich. As masterful as any head coach, in any sport, why did Popovich fail Aldridge? Why does all the blame fall on the player and not the coach?
Where’s the critique regarding how unbalanced the Spurs have become offensively?
Leonard – who’s great – has the entire game plan within his palms. It’s logical as he’s young, proven and their best player. There is no doubt there. He’s risen from his apprenticeship to take the mantle from Tim Duncan. However the offense has become easy to defend. How many times have the Spurs relied on Leonard play hero-ball, in isolation, when a basket is needed? Too many to count; more often than not he’s successful but the other four players on the court are stationary; as in late 90s, early 2000s, he’s-clearing-it-out-so-I-guess-we’ll-watch-this-from-here kind of motionless.
When’s the last time the Spurs executed their offense in that fashion?
“Get him out of here!”
“He can’t play!”
“He’s soft! It’s over for him!”
These are comments I’ve pulled from paid analysts over the last year and more frequently after the Warriors eliminated them from the playoffs. These are real quotes from the experts.
I don’t agree and it isn’t a terribly difficult argument to defend either. He was the prize of free agency TWO years ago and now he’s trash? Worthy of being express-mailed out of San Antonio? He arrived TWO YEARS ago. This isn’t a case of him failing to perform, the team has devalued him and turned their noses up at the thought of keeping him on the roster.
Popovich barely posts him, for one. Secondly, the offense has him attacking from the perimeter – which habitually leaves him with the choice between a long jumper or a three; shots he can convert – once Leonard dribbles the air out of the ball. But their problems are all tied to No. 12?
I don’t think sports fans are intelligent by any means so I’m not astonished that they are also blaming the former Portland Trailblazer. It’s the reporters, screaming heads and the like that are paid to watch basketball – who should have a deeper understanding of the game – and yet they have their eyes wide shut. It’s their profession. Side point: It’s akin to the issues involving Kevin Love. He’s a power forward with three-point range…but the Cavaliers deploy him chiefly as a stretch-four and he’s a “bum” now?
This is basketball and Aldridge is not utilized properly. This. Is. Obvious.
Is it a coincidence that Leonard’s MVP-level campaign coincided with Aldridge’s worst statistical season since his freshman NBA year? These two events transpired simultaneously. I can’t be the only person that sees that. How is that being ignored? Additionally, wasn’t the analytics movement buoyed by the reasoning that traditional methods of gauging a player’s value; e.g. points, rebounds, assists, etc, are incomplete measurements? Yet when everyone’s head is steaming and/or there’s a live microphone around, the first spotlight is on points per game? Lazy.
If you watch basketball and you understand more than a highlight or a flashy pass then this truly isn’t difficult to comprehend.
Every team can’t try to copy what’s on deck for the Warriors. The galaxy lined up for them so perfectly and now the league is in a frenzy to bottle it. It isn’t alchemy. They drafted their dynamic backcourt and then signed Steph Curry to a below-market extension due to his ankle troubles which gave them the flexibility to focus cash elsewhere (namely Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston). Then they got lucky enough that when their all-star, David Lee, was injured Draymond Green turned into a complete force that NO ONE expected. Oh…and then they win an NBA championship, follow that year with a 73-9 season (but lose in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers after blowing a 3-1 lead) and sign Kevin Durant. He then helps lead them into another dance with the Cavaliers in which they finish the series in five games. The Warriors were built organically and then looked to free agency.
The league is killing itself to replicate their style. I get it. However there’s a reason why the Spurs have been able to beat them. Size. Aldridge gives them trouble for that same reason. When the Spurs defend and the offense is run through both of their top players, they can compete with the Warriors. There isn’t a team that’s going to beat the Warriors playing small – and to their strengths. A roster needs to have a perfect mix of shooting, defense, size and speed in order not to get blown out by 30 – and the Spurs are pointing all the blame at Aldridge without taking a look at their offense. If Popovich did, I’m sure he would reconsider trading his power forward. At least he should.
But again, by the time this is published he’ll probably be in another city.