Analyzing potential San Antonio Spurs trades for LaMarcus Aldridge

San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge
San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images) /

Potential trade No. 1: Denver Nuggets

The last time we saw a high-profile former Texas Longhorn migrate over to the team that defeated him in the previous season’s playoffs, the reaction was anything but amicable. But given everything involved here — the small markets, the laid-back assets and the competitive setting of today’s NBA — the gut feeling is that there’d be little to no backlash this time around.

Earliest reports offered that for the trade to work, the Denver Nuggets would have to part ways with multiple pieces from their talented second unit, namely journeyman center Mason Plumlee and 23-year-old former first-round pick Malik Beasley, in order to bring in Aldridge.

At first glance, this trade wouldn’t necessarily make sense. For starters, giving away their franchise cornerstone for two rotation players shouldn’t conceivably move the needle for the San Antonio Spurs. On Denver’s side, contractually, it goes against their tendencies.

The words “Stan Kroenke” and “paying the luxury tax” simply aren’t something we can feasibly expect to see in the same sentence. Remember, this is the same owner who allowed Masai Ujiri — the NBA’s Executive of the Year in 2012-13 and NBA champion six years later — walk for free, in fear of overpaying him.

This is also the same owner, who, despite consistently fielding one of the youngest rosters in the Association, owns one of just two NBA teams without an active G-League affiliate.

And no, it’s not a new development; even during the Carmelo Anthony era, Nuggets ownership showed minimal interest in paying the tax. For that aforementioned trade to work, the Nuggets would likely have to add in one more player. To line those salaries, the Nuggets could throw in Will Barton (a no-no at this point, since he’s been so solid).

Instead, how about Juan Hernangomez and Michael Porter Jr.?

Chances are, the potential caveat becomes: what happens to Denver’s bench after losing four rotational players? The fact is, they haven’t necessarily been as potent this season anyways; they rank as the No. 21 scoring second unit, and have experienced a minus-5.2 difference in their efficiency recap difference compared to last season.

Making this move would allow the Nuggets to create a clear-cut sixth man role for the ever-underrated Paul Millsap — a role he’s filled for 284 games in his career and helped generate a 111 offensive rating — while also putting him alongside Will Barton, Torrey Craig and Monte Morris, among others.

Per’s trade machine, the San Antonio Spurs would be decreasing their projected win total by seven games. But in a kitchen where there are too many cooks — in this case, guards — they get a chance to offset that with young forwards blossoming with potential.

In return, the Denver Nuggets would finally have a consistent, bonafide offensive weapon to run their offense through when Nikola Jokic has one of those games where he takes single-digit field goal attempts (something we’ve seen five times in just 18 games), or on nights where Jamal Murray is struggling to find net.

It would become probably the closest we’ve seen to that Chris WebberVlade DivacMike Bibby trio of the early 2000s.

Given where Aldridge is in his career now, he’s probably best served as a secondary or tertiary option. And in playing alongside arguably the NBA’s best passer, Aldridge could be due for the easiest looks of his life. Imagine a pick-your-poison play to this degree: could this not become a go-to staple in the Denver offense?

Stats to know:

  • Only three teams in today’s NBA run more post-up action than the Denver Nuggets. In contrast, only seven teams average fewer points per possession than Denver’s 0.81. If the Nuggets want to continue making their back-to-basket game a staple, taking a chance on one of the best to ever do it could reap major benefits. Aldridge’s post-up numbers are down, but Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis are the only players to generate more points out of the post-up. Aldridge’s 0.85 points per possession slots him right in that range of the elite. Think Karl-Anthony Towns and Kawhi Leonard (0.88) or Nikola Vucevic (0.86).
  • In the HoopsHype article, one executive wondered how Aldridge could perform within a fast-paced offense. Surprise, surprise: in Denver, we’d never find out. The Denver Nuggets rank No. 27 in pace, which is more in-tune with what Aldridge operates best in. The Spurs ranked No. 28 and No. 22 over the last two seasons.
  • A compound stat: the Nuggets have found tons of success through their two-big game with Jokic and either Plumlee or Millsap. A season ago, Jokic made a whopping 5,702 passes. About one-sixth (15.8 percent) of those passes were to frontcourt players. On those passes from Jokic, those players shot  a respectable 45.7 percent. With respects to Millsap, Hernangomez, Plumlee and Lyles, none are as proficient in catch-and-shoot as Aldridge, who ranks No. 6 among frontcourt players, and shoots at a higher clip (48.2) than anyone in his radius.