Crafting All-Star cases for San Antonio Spurs stars LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan

San Antonio Spurs DeMar DeRozan LaMarcus Aldridge. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs DeMar DeRozan LaMarcus Aldridge. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images) /
San Antonio Spurs DeMar DeRozan LaMarcus Aldridge
San Antonio Spurs DeMar DeRozan LaMarcus Aldridge. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photos by Darren Carroll/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The battle towards a 22nd consecutive season with an All-Star representative feels uphill. But in a talent-laden Western Conference, can either of the San Antonio Spurs’ stars make a case?

Talk about anticlimactic; Monday marked the final day for All-Star voting and for those associated with the San Antonio Spurs, that means two things.

Like the lunch table for the cool kids, Spurs stars weren’t popular enough to join the Alex Carusos of the basketball world, which puts that other streak — a dynastic reign of 21 consecutive seasons with at least one Western Conference All-Star representative — in serious jeopardy.

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In a sense, that’s a scary thought: there are fans who’ve routinely made an effort to scroll past Donovan Mitchell, CJ McCollum and these types of players to vote for lesser players in good conscience.

A poignant thought for sure, but don’t mistake it for anything new. LaMarcus Aldridge is a seven-time All-Star, a number only 60 players in NBA history have amassed. But for all seven of those selections, he needed coaches to appreciate and recognize him in a way fans never would.

DeMar DeRozan enjoyed a bit more fortune, earning enough fan votes to start in two of his four All-Star seasons as a Toronto Raptor.

Thanks to both the expansive talent crop in the Western Conference and their lack of national exposure (third-fewest nationally-televised games among teams to make the postseason in 2018-19), the Spurs’ stars will be left to hope they caused enough apprehension among coaches and scouting reports to warrant enough coaching votes.

Should the Spurs have any sort of representation at next month’s All-Star Game in Chicago, it’ll come in large part due to these few factors.


As the old adage goes: the best ability is availability. You can conjure up a million negative takeaways from the San Antonio Spurs’ 19-23 start to this point. The one thing you can’t say — and arguably what makes the record the most confusing — is that the Spurs haven’t been incredibly healthy to this point.

As the above graph from Jan. 14 illustrates, San Antonio has been the least ravaged by injuries in a season in which injuries have more or less defined it. And though it’s come more from necessity than luxury, the two stars have set the ground path.

Aldridge has played in all but two of the Spurs’ 42 games, with a minor thigh soreness causing his only scratch of the season. Meanwhile, DeRozan owns perfect attendance to this point — all the more impressive when you consider he’s the only player with at least 20 drives of the basket per game, and more accurate than any player with more attempts than him this season.

Imagine how that would look in one of those old-school tale of the tape comparisons among boxers.

Put side-by-side with some of the challengers for a reserve spot, that sticks out like a sore thumb. Assuming James Harden and Luka Doncic command the two backcourt slots and LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis take on the frontcourt ones, here’s how it plays out:

(As a brief sidenote: to clear up any potential confusion,  DeRozan is listed as a small forward this season. Per Basketball Reference, 81 percent of his time this year has come at the 3.)

Paul George — 17 missed games out of 43.
Karl-Anthony Towns — 17 missed games out of 43.
Carmelo Anthony — Unsigned for first 15 games out of 45.
Kristaps Porzingis — 11 missed games out of 42.
Brandon Ingram — 5 missed games out of 44.

Of the three reserve frontcourt slots, two of them are relative locks. Arguing against either Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz or Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets is the equivalent to talking to a wall. That means, DeRozan and Aldridge are challenging the likes of that aforementioned five.

DeRozan’s chances feel admittedly slim and Aldridge’s probably even slimmer. But if you’re a Spurs supporter, you can at least entertain the question: are 26 games of Paul George more impactful than 40 games of Aldridge? Does Karl-Anthony Towns have more cumulative value in just 26 games than DeRozan in 42?

Ingram feels like the absolute safest choice, but if you don’t value his team being 11 games under .500, the argument for availability looks something like this.

Put their seasons in a magnifying glass. Of the seven we just named, only Aldridge and DeRozan have played 1,000 minutes. They’ve also scored more raw points, and are among the top three in win shares. Night after night, they’ve been their for their team, digging them from a nightmare hole at the start of the season.

That’s mostly low-hanging fruit, but it speaks volumes to how available they’ve been for their team.

As for if that deserves a reward ticket into the All-Star Game is one thing, but it surely means something in the grand scheme.

San Antonio Spurs DeMar DeRozan LaMarcus Aldridge
San Antonio Spurs DeMar DeRozan LaMarcus Aldridge (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Recent success

The San Antonio Spurs have produced an All-Star in a league-record 40 of the 42 seasons, since entering the NBA in 1976. If that number doesn’t reach 41, that slow start to the season will largely be a reason why.

Thankfully, we’ve been able to forget about the nightmare of November, during which the Spurs went 4-12. Trade rumors for Aldridge and DeRozan were deafening and for good reason.

Coach Gregg Popovich may as well have come into the court and tried his own hand at defense; the Spurs’ defensive ratings catapulted beyond 117 points per 100 possessions with DeRozan and Aldridge on the floor, with minus-9.2 and minus-8.4 net ratings, respectively.

Since Dec. 2, not only have the two climbed out their way out of negativity — both own a plus-0.6 net rating — but they’ve found ways to succeed cohesively. The Spurs are 24-11 in 35 games where they each scored 20 or more points and a healthy dose of those has come in recent weeks, as they’ve jumped to a mere half-game outside the top eight in the West.

DeRozan, in particular, has found himself at the epicenter of history as of late, too.

That’s roughly a third of the season in which DeRozan has been among the league’s absolute best. Over the last month, DeRozan is averaging 26.1 points per game (No. 11 in the NBA) and shooting a whopping 60.3 percent from the field. For context: of the 11 guys ranked higher than him in scoring, only two of them are shooting over 50 percent.

To further illustrate that point, DeRozan’s only needed 15.9 field-goal attempts to do it; the next lowest on that list (Giannis Antetokounmpo) needed 18.3.

The big knock on DeRozan, besides defense, has been the question of whether his gaudy scoring numbers are immaterial to the end result. Over that stretch, the Spurs have been 6.8 points better per 100 possessions with DeRozan (7.0 for Aldridge), and among players to play at least 30 minutes per game, that ranks No. 16 in the NBA.

Arguably the biggest reason for DeRozan’s revival has come from the fear defenders are forced to have in knowing Aldridge is going to hit 3-pointers at rates even surpassing the traditional big. Mike Prada of SB Nation put out a brilliant breakdown of that a week ago. Here’s one illustration of his that shows how he’s created offense for everyone else.

more spurs. Too soon to panic about Forbes. light

In doing so, Aldridge has not only shown his willingness to mix-and-watch attributes of a modern-day (big), but that transition has sacrificed little on the defensive end.

Among bigs (and apparently James Harden and Buddy Hield?) to challenge at least four shots per game at the rim per game, Aldridge forces opposing inside threats to shoot 5 percent lower than their expected percentage at the rim, per It’s not quite that of the Rudy Gobert-Brook Lopez stratosphere, but it’s higher than feared interior protectors such as Joel Embiid and Al Horford.

If there’s ever been an article by me that has the ability to age extremely fast, this is undoubtedly the one. There’s a chance none of this matters, especially given how deep the Western Conference is. Nonetheless, the case is there for the taking for the silver-and-black to be at All-Star Weekend.

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If nothing else, maybe we’ll at least be blessed with seeing this in the Slam Dunk Contest.