When you think of the best star duos in the NBA, who comes to mind? Probably Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, James Harden and Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Did the San Antonio Spurs’ duo of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge pop in your head? Probably not, and that’s exactly the point: They’re the most underrated star duo in the NBA.
DeRozan and Aldridge have each fallen off their pedestals a bit in recent memory, at least in terms of public perception.
Over the summer, the Toronto Raptors acquired star forward Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs for, most notably, DeRozan. The two big storylines from the deal were how Leonard would fit in with the Raptors and how team president Masai Ujiri supposedly told DeRozan he wasn’t being traded, and then, of course, dealt him to San Antonio.
But let’s be honest, what has been the more compelling storyline: How Leonard has transformed the Raptors and his upcoming free agency, or how DeRozan fits in with the Spurs?
On the other hand, many are down on Aldridge’s game. He has his flaws on both ends, and some feel he should be playing and producing at a higher level than he has been over the last two seasons. There’s also the fact that Aldridge requested a trade from the Spurs in 2017 — which wasn’t granted and Aldridge later signed a three-year extension. Perhaps that has altered views on the big man?
But what part of DeRozan and Aldridge’s games have changed?
DeRozan is averaging a team-high 21.4 points, as well as a career-high 6.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. Whether it be playing in isolation, running the break, getting to the rim with ease, flying above the rim, hitting the boards, or sharing the sugar, he has been an irreplaceable figure in head coach Gregg Popovich’s rotation. DeRozan is also shooting 47.3 percent from the field (which is the highest he has shot from the field since becoming a full-time starter with the Raptors in the 2010-11 season).
DeRozan has always been this player. Sure, he’s not averaging 27.3 points per game like he did two seasons ago, but he has averaged 20-plus points a game since the 2013-14 season and been an electric source of offense his entire career. Oh, he’s also a four-time NBA All-Star and was in the conversation as being the best 2-guard in the sport two seasons ago.
Aldridge has also been a vital source of offense for the Spurs this season. Averaging 21.3 points per game, he’s one of the highest-scoring big men in the NBA. He’s also one of the best low-post players in the league, has a reliable mid-range game, and hits the boards on both ends.
At any point of his career, when hasn’t Aldridge been this player? He’s a 20-10 threat whenever he steps on the floor, been the focal point of an offense, and his offensive production hasn’t decreased much in his four seasons with the Spurs. Sunday night against the Boston Celtics, Aldridge finished with a remarkable 48 points and 13 rebounds. He also had a 56-point game earlier this season.
So, where does the notion that he’s overrated and past his prime derive from? The Spurs not having any superstars? Needing someone to blame for why they aren’t at the top of the Western Conference? The idea that he was supposed to be Tim Duncan 2.0 after the future Hall of Fame big man retired?
DeRozan and Aldridge are two of the most steady scorers at their respective positions in the league. They can operate with the bulk of opposing teams’ defensive attention on them, and, when on the floor together, take pressure off each other, which is when they’re the most effective. With the Raptors, DeRozan had the steady Kyle Lowry by his side to take some attention off him, and Aldridge was alongside Damian Lillard with the Portland Trail Blazers, one of the most explosive point guards in the NBA.
The two stars are a lot alike. They’ve each had to re-establish themselves with a new team, are now glanced over, and have their defensive deficiencies. DeRozan’s isolation defense has always come into question, as has Aldridge’s ability to defend in the post. But the two of them are each skilled offensive players. There aren’t other stars in the same exact boat when it comes to being potent offensively and shaky on the other end of the floor?
Now, the Spurs are 43-31 and the eighth seed in the West. Are they going to do the unthinkable and knock off the Golden State Warriors or Denver Nuggets in the first round? In all likelihood, probably not. At the same time, it’s only the first season the Spurs have had DeRozan in the fold, and they’ve overcome an impressive amount of adversity.
They were dealt a blow before the regular season when young point guard Dejounte Murray tore his ACL, and outside of Rudy Gay, the Spurs don’t have consistent and reliable scoring options behind DeRozan and Aldridge. Patty Mills, Bryn Forbes, Marco Belinelli and Davis Bertans are mostly just outside shooting threats, and while Derrick White is an intriguing development, he’s still young and mostly unproven.
With the return of Murray plus further development of the young players and perhaps a few moves this offseason, the Spurs very well could rise again in the Western Conference next season, with DeRozan and Aldridge leading the way. DeRozan and Aldridge may not be the modern-day, uptempo flashy star duo, but their production warrants the attention that other top pairings garner.