Playing with a little more bounce in his step and looking more comfortable on offense, Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has quieted the naysayers – for now – with his steady play in the preseason.
Aldridge was crisp in the Spurs’ 103-98 loss to Orlando on Sunday, finishing with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting in 25 minutes. He got off to a fast start, scoring 11 points in the first quarter.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been impressed with what he’s seen of Aldridge, who is preparing for his third season with the Silver and Black and 12th in the NBA.
“He’s played real loose,” Popovich said after Sunday’s game. “Especially on offense, he looks real comfortable. He’s getting the ball in good positions, and has done a fine job being a real stalwart at the offensive end of the court. Just like last year, he’s working hard defensively. He’s having a really good beginning.”
Aldridge and the Spurs get one more opportunity to tune up for the regular season when they play the Rockets in their final exhibition game Friday night in Houston.
While Aldridge has found his groove in the offseason, the paramount question hanging over the Spurs is how he will adapt when Kawhi Leonard returns from a quadriceps injury that has sidelined him for most of training camp.
Leonard missed the team’s first four preseason games and won’t play Friday night, the team announced Thursday. Popovich has not set a timetable for his return.
The Silver and Black open their season against the Minnesota Timberwolves next Wednesday at the AT&T Center.
Leonard, who finished third in last season’s MVP balloting, led the Spurs in scoring and earned a spot on the first unit of the All-NBA team. When he returns, Aldridge, as well as the rest of the squad, are going to have to adjust to his game.
Starting guard Danny Green chuckled Thursday when he was asked how the Spurs will keep Aldridge in the flow of the offense after Leonard returns and takes the bulk of the team’s shots.
“That’s why I’m not a coach,” Green said. “That’s Pop’s job. He gets paid the big bucks to figure that out. But I’m sure he will find a way for everybody to be satisfied, happy and get in a rhythm.”
The Spurs seeking a trade for Aldridge in the offseason was one of the storylines of the NBA’s offseason. In the end, a heart-to-heart between the five-time All-Star and Popovich made for a fresh beginning when training camp started.
In a nutshell, Aldridge expressed his frustration that he wasn’t fitting into the Silver and Black’s offense. Popovich listened and made some adjustments to get Aldridge more involved on the offensive end of the court.
The early returns have been good for Aldridge and the Spurs. He has averaged a team-leading 16 points in four preseason games, making 57.4 percent of his shots.
“I feel really comfortable right now and I think Pop has made some tweaks to help me feel more comfortable, so I think it all goes to him. (I got) some different looks out there, and I can touch it from different spots,” Aldridge said. “It’s been helping out.”
Popovich said that Aldridge’s concerns were “totally legitimate” and worked on schemes to get him more involved in the offense.
“We have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that,” Popovich said.
Aldridge’s teammates have done their part to get him going early in games.
“He’s one of those guys that needs those early touches to get a feel for the ball, get a feel for the game, and just confidence-wise,” Green said. “He can kind of tell from his first couple touches, his first couple shots, how the game is going to go.”