The Spurs have been awesome without Kawhi Leonard so far this season, and LaMarcus Aldridge is the key reason.
They’re third in the Western Conference behind the Rockets and the Warriors, and Aldridge has been their best player. He’s averaging 22.7 points per game and playing the best defense of his career. But it wasn’t always that way.
He only averaged 17.3 points per game last season — the third-lowest average of his career. The Spurs once considered moving Aldridge because of his poor fit and his dissatisfaction in his new role. He was even called out by Gregg Popovich for his timidity on the block.
But now, according to a report from NBA.com’s Shaun Powell, Pop and Aldridge are on the same page after a heart-to-heart they had this summer after their Conference Finals loss to the Warriors.
“We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen, and frankly 95 percent of it fell on me because I made an error in trying to change him too much,” Popovich said. “That might sound odd, but he’d been in the league nine years and there’s one way he plays on the offensive end and feels comfortable with.”
That’s incredibly introspective from a coach who doesn’t have to be. Of course, such flexibility and self-awareness are also among the qualities that makes Popovich the best coach in the game.
What did Pop want Aldridge to do?
Popovich wanted Aldridge to play as a face-up player as opposed to having his back to the basket like he did when he was in Portland. It didn’t work, and we saw the results. Now, he’s back to doing what he does best, and the Spurs are winning.
“I tried to turn him into Jack Sikma, told him I was going to teach you how to play on the elbow, go on the wing, face up. It was confusing for him,” Popovich said. He was over-coaching him, and Aldridge’s production paid for it.
It’s rare to see a coach be so humble
Especially when the coach is a multiple-time NBA champion. Popovich didn’t have to worry about Aldridge’s comfort level at all. He’s a proven coach, and the Spurs would choose him over Aldridge in a second.
But the best coaches realize that, without their players’ talent, they simply aren’t that good — even Popovich. And that’s why it makes sense for him to make Aldridge as comfortable as he possibly can.
Yet, we’ve seen so many examples of coaches being too stubborn to fit their players into roles that fit them the best. And in the end, those situations normally don’t work out for any party involved. So it’s great to see Popovich doing this here.
And it’s obviously working. The Spurs are third in the Western Conference without their best player in Leonard. This just goes to show a little humility goes a long way.