It’s very possible everything started with their late-night bar-hopping on May 2nd.
Just hours after being erroneously eliminated from the first round of the playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs wanted to drink away their agony. Oh, don’t worry, there were no problems — Tim Duncan is the perfect savior to carry an intoxicated bench player across the streets of Los Angeles to avoid trouble.
Once Chris Paul’s wondrous floater (with a torn hamstring!) sunk Gregg Popovich in Game 7, the Spurs probably entered a state of acrimony. Fire and spit likely flew from the mouth of Popovich, still fuming over the faulty game-clock manager in the final seconds.
At the midnight dinner, I can imagine a lot of grieving during the appetizers, while cursing uncontrollably about the NBA’s seeding method for the playoffs. Had the NBA fixed the unsound rule of awarding each division winner with at least a No. 4 seed, San Antonio wouldn’t have found itself playing 341 minutes against the Clippers right off the bat.
The main course arrives shortly after. Duncan and Manu Ginobili begin to hear the voices in their head: “Will this be the last meal we eat together, as a part of this team? Should we cherish this final scene of lamentation, since age may be forcing us through the door of retirement?”
Meanwhile, Popovich and General Manager R.C. Buford have already finished four drinks. With everyone loosed up (and Kawhi staring off into space somewhere at the end of the table), Pop is already snapping back to his ambitious coaching attitude.
He knew they had to make a compelling splash in the offseason.
Sure, Pop is the biggest advocator of roster continuity — he’s not a coach that wants a different mash-up of talent just because they have an “unsuccessful” season. He’s been blessed with the most dangerous perpetuity you can have in sports, which is keeping your Big 3 together for 15+ years.
But, with the Western Conference averaging 664 combined wins for the last two seasons (an average of 45 per team), you can’t be smug. There is no time for complacency, since every team around you is actively trying to better itself.
Trying to make the leap over the huge clutter at the top of the West, San Antonio did something we’re not used to seeing. Popovich and Buford chased down LaMarcus Aldridge, the most productive free agent on the market (excluding LeBron James). By influencing Aldridge to kiss goodbye his Oregon stardom, the Spurs knocked out two birds with one stone. They would instantly revamp a team that still won 55 games last year — something any East organization would die for — and they would help the regression of the Trail Blazers, who were barely over the 50-win mark with Aldridge.
Thus, you’re knocking out a team from the “special eight” in the West playoff hunt, all while making your own team the most threatening for any defense to handle.
Locking Aldridge into a four-year contract likely affirmed that San Antonio will stay among the top five offenses next season. Although they finished seventh in offensive rating (behind three Eastern Conference teams), there’s no question the Spurs’ offensive attack belonged directly behind Golden State and Los Angeles.
They had the 3rd-highest field goal percentage during the regular season (46.8%), the 6th-highest 3-point percentage (36.7%), and the 4th-highest free throw percentage (78%). That gave them an average ranking of 4.3 for all three categories — as Golden State finished with an average ranking of 3.6 for all three.
As a team, the Spurs take pride in hitting those three benchmarks mentioned above — 47-37-78. It seems arbitrary, but take a step back and think about it: Not many teams can ever say they were able to shoot that efficiently from the field, 3-point range, and charity stripe, respectively. Throughout NBA history, only 15 other teams have accomplished what the 2014-15 Spurs did in regards to the three shooting percentages. 10 of them occurred in the 2000’s, which only goes to show how much the game is transitioning.
Adding Aldridge should’ve been outlawed, due to how to much he’s right up the Spurs’ alley. Aldridge shot 46.6% from the field last season, along with 35.2% on his increased 3-point attempts, and a career-high 84.5% from the foul line.
Is this some type of sick joke? It’s nearly identical to what the Spurs aim for as a team, with an even bigger advantage brought by his free throw mastery.
It’s fitting that San Antonio finished atop the Las Vegas Summer League this year, because it’s almost like they’re hustling everyone.
There was also a subliminal (but also very logical) advantage of the Aldridge signing this summer. It was the first stepping stone toward a frontcourt revitalization. In order to have enough cap space to give Aldridge his maximum salary, Buford had to make a few adjustments. The first major step was to trade starting center, Tiago Splitter, which freed up over $8.5 million in space.
Arron Baynes, the Spurs’ backup power forward/center that played 16 minutes per game last year, also walked away by inking with Detroit.
Then, after Aldridge had already been introduced and the frenzy died down … veteran forward David West decided to throw $12.6 million back to the Pacers, taking a minimum salary level to join Popovich and the Spurs.
Although it wasn’t a direct trade, the essential replacement of Splitter and Baynes with the combo of Aldridge and West makes this team a bit unbelievable.
Virtually, the Spurs replaced Splitter & Baynes’ 29.8 points per 36 minutes with Aldridge & West’s 38. In terms of rebounding production, San Antonio didn’t miss a beat, or give up anything significant. Both Aldridge and West are better rebounders than Splitter and Baynes, with an advantage of 21 combined years of experience … compared to the old duo’s 8 total years. The biggest key, though, is that Popovich snagged a frontcourt player with over double the amount of win shares (8.6) than either of Splitter or Baynes could deliver.
How will Aldridge fit with the Spurs in each offensive component? Let’s take a look.
Next: Aldridge's Top Strength