As I was preparing to write part 2 of my analysis of the Spurs’ future core, news broke out about LaMarcus Aldridge’s season-ending surgery. Behind Aldridge in the depth chart, however, are all players under 25, and players that can play a big role on the team when their time comes.
In this article, we are going to take a deeper look at LaMarcus Aldridge’s recent injury, as well as the players who might step up for the Spurs in their final playoff push, as well as their future.
Check out Part 1! Featuring Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV
What the Loss Of Aldridge Means to the Spurs
The biggest loss when it comes to LaMarcus Aldridge being sidelined is without a doubt his consistent play on the offensive end. Averaging 18.9 points per game on almost 50 percent shooting, Aldridge is the go-to guy behind DeMar DeRozan on a nightly basis. Beyond Aldridge and DeRozan, however, there isn’t a clear 3rd option, who can constantly create and make shots on their own. This might be the first problem Popovich has to overcome if there is any chance of the Spurs reaching the playoffs.
From a statistical standpoint, losing a 20 point per game big man is already a huge blow, but even more so as we consider Aldridge’s unique skill set outside the paint. This season, shots beyond 10 feet combined were a staggering 61 percent of all of Aldridge’s shots. This outside shooting skill allows the Spurs to initiate specific sets for Aldridge, including the most frequently used pick and pop.
Aside from Aldridge’s turnaround jumpers and mid-range jumpers, what came as a surprise in the middle of the season was Aldridge’s three-pointers. Never much of a three-point shooter in previous years of his career, LaMarcus this season was able to drain 1.4 threes per game and at a very decent 38.9 percent–the highest percentage of all Spurs starters. Now, one and a half threes may not seem like a lot, but the effects of an additional outside threat, as well as the spacing which it creates, makes it worth a whole lot more.
Four Possible Replacements For LaMarcus Aldridge, Now and in the Future
1. Center: Jakob Poeltl, 24
If there is one Spur that can possibly benefit the most from the games played at Disneyland in July, it might be Jakob Poeltl. Assessing coach Pop’s earlier lineups, Poeltl most likely will be starting in the place of Aldridge. With only a few months to go before Poeltl starts to negotiate a new contract in free agency, a strong performance in Orlando might really raise his stock and earn him some big bucks.
Areas Poeltl Needs to Work On
Defensively, Jakob Poeltl, without a doubt, is an upgrade over Aldridge, and over most NBA bigs. Per 36 Minutes, Poeltl averages 3.1 blocks per game, which would tie him with Hassan Whiteside for the league-leading blocker. With Poeltl on the floor, the Spurs as a team also allow five points less per 100 possessions. It is quite clear that providing a defensive presence inside, no matter what, is and will be Jakob Poeltl’s bread and butter in his career. But if he wants help push the Spurs to the playoffs this year, or in the many years to come, he would most definitely have to prove he is an offensive threat as well.
Practically having no offensive game beyond 5 feet, Jakob’s offensive proficiency would be what you call the exact opposite of Aldrige’s. Poeltl so far in his career only averages 5.4 points per game, almost all of which coming within five feet, or from the free-throw line. Simply looking at the Spurs this year, throwing Jakob Poeltl into a more prominent role will no doubt cause trouble scoring the basketball. If there is one bright spot in Poeltl’s offensive skill set (which there is), it is his offensive rebounding. Although Jakob only played 16 minutes per game earlier this season, he grabbed almost two OREB! Once again, if Poeltl receives a more starter-like playing time, 32 minutes per game, for example, he would be averaging 4 OREB per game, good for fourth in the league.
Poeltl can be a defensive star on the Spurs’ future core for many years to come. However, in order to truly become an impactful player, Poeltl would need to further expand his offensive arsenal and become a scoring threat.
2. Forward/Center: Drew Eubanks, 23
Drew Eubanks is the exact type of player that Coach Pop absolutely adores. Not born with elite athleticism, Eubanks uses his smarts and fundamentals to create opportunities for himself. In the G-league, he averaged 16 points in only 22 minutes per night, while shooting at a solid 63 percent.
This season, Eubanks appeared in 14 games with the Spurs first-team, much of which was in garbage time, and averaged 3.6 points. Yet the only game in which Eubanks was given a decent role was just before the league shut down on February 29th. In that game, Drew finished with 10 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks, in 20 minutes of play.
In my opinion, Eubanks might very well be the first big man off the bench for the Spurs next month. Drew Eubanks is the kind of player who can do a little of everything, yet not particularly great at any of them. This kind of consistent player, however, might be exactly what coach Popovich and the Spurs are looking for in July. The player that completes his role night in and night out, and provides some steadiness to what has been an unsteady season.
3. Forward: Chimezie Metu, 23
Chimezie Metu might surprise a lot of people in Orlando. Many people don’t know him due to his almost nonexisting playing time on the Spurs, but he might prove to be an interesting weapon for the final playoff run.
Drafted in the 2nd round in 2018, Metu has been improving his game in the G-league for two years. Before the G-league season was halted, Metu was averaging 17.9 points per game on a shooting split of 54/36/63. Yes, I know, the free throw percentage is pretty iffy, but both of his shooting percentages are very decent. For the Spurs, Metu mainly provides an athletic big man who can spread the floor, while being average at the defensive end.
Although Metu seems promising, there are definitely reasons why he hasn’t gained Popovich’s trust for the past two years. First and foremost is his instincts and basketball IQ. When looking at Metu’s film, it is quite often that he forces up bad shots, or goes Iso for way too long. Although it is always good to look for ways to score, Metu’s skills aren’t allowing him to consistently make those shots yet. Therefore blowing offensive possessions by taking contested shots instead of moving the ball. On the defensive end, Metu has all the athletic tools to be great, but similar to his offensive troubles, he often loses vision on his surrounding. Thus losing his man, or failing to rotate properly, and ends up giving easy buckets to the opponent.
Whether or not Metu can prove his role in the Spurs’ future directly results from his performance this season and possibly the next. But regardless of what the end result might be, Metu will definitely be given a chance to perform, and very possibly in July.
4. Forward: Luka Samanic, 20
It is tough to break the news, fellow Spurs fans, but I think we all know Luka Samanic has a limited chance to take on a big role in July, even with Aldridge’s injury. Samanic will no doubt be called up from G-League, but don’t be surprised if you only see him playing in garbage time.
With that being said, Luka Samanic is a distant first in potential when compared to the 3 players above. Considered as a long term project when the Spurs drafted him with the 19th pick last year, Samanic along with Keldon Johnson has made a name for themselves in the G-league. Samanic not only managed to score 15.2 points per game but was able to show his vast offensive arsenal. Sometimes even bursting for 25 plus points. In G-league, Luka showed his expected promise as a three-level scorer, finding ways to score from the three-point line to near the basket.
It’s hard not to be excited about Samanic’s talent, yet there are many things that he needs to improve on, many of which take a significant amount of time. (bulking up, three-point shot…etc) Even though there is a chance we won’t see much of Samanic this coming July, but when December comes, expect Luka to be ready to showcase his talents.
LaMarcus Aldridge’s presence will most definitely be missed. However, it is very exciting to see the younger players have an opportunity at a more notable role in a playoff-like environment, even if it means the 22-year playoff streak must end.
One common thing though among Eubanks, Metu, and Samanic, is their inexperience with playing against the best of the best. In July we might realize how these three players, as well as Poeltl, are far below the league’s best big men–but there is always the chance of us finding a player who performs best under the brightest lights.
Next up–Spurs Future Core Part 3: Keldon Johnson, Trey Lyles, Quinndary Weatherspoon
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