The San Antonio Spurs were already going to have an uphill climb to get into the modified playoffs and extend their 22-year postseason streak, but the hill is now even steeper with the news that LaMarcus Aldridge is done for the season after shoulder surgery.
Four games out of the No. 8 spot going into the resumption of play in July, the Spurs have the third-worst record out of the teams invited to Orlando. They’re battling with the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns as they try to catch the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies.
While a lot of the focus in terms of injury speculation for the resumption of this season was focused on whether players like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant would come back to play, this Spurs announcement came out of nowhere and put a damper on San Antonio’s already small playoff dreams.
Aldridge is an important cog for the Spurs, giving the offense a steady presence while also playing capable interior defense. Prior to the pause in the season, Aldridge was averaging 18.9 points in 33.1 minutes along with 7.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. While his scoring production was down from the previous two campaigns, his ability to score inside and outside (he was even hitting 1.2 3s per game this season at a 38.9% clip) was huge for San Antonio.
The Spurs will have to lean on DeMar DeRozan even more now. DeRozan is the leading scorer for the Spurs, averaging 22.2 points on the season. That productivity is going to have to increase to compensate for the loss of the almost 19 points per game Aldridge was giving the team. While DeRozan is certainly capable of scoring more, he has never put up more than 27 points per game in a season and has always relied on another star player on the team to help keep the pressure off of him.
A bigger issue for the Spurs will be the lack of any other dominant inside presence. The second-highest rebounder on the team is point guard Dejounte Murray, who’s grabbing 5.8 rebounds per game. The next player is Trey Lyles at 5.7 boards per contest.
Jakob Poeltl is a solid big man who can board and protect the rim, but he has always played a bit role. Poeltl was averaging 5.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.4 blocks in 16.6 minutes per game before the suspension. The Spurs will need the Austrian to up his contributions, and they’ll also need more from Lyles, Rudy Gay and perhaps even Drew Eubanks.
For the Spurs to have any chance of making a run, they’ll need DeMar DeRozan to step up his game in a big way while also getting increased contributions from up and down the lineup, not just from the other big men taking Aldridge’s place. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich could look to play a small-ball, perimeter-focused game, understanding that almost any team they face will be dominating them on the boards.
If the Spurs can get hot from the perimeter and play strong defense (this has been an issue), they might have a chance. But it must be noted that even with Aldridge, making the playoffs was always going to be a long shot. San Antonio either has to get all the way up to the No. 8 seed or get to the No. 9 spot and be within four games of the No. 8 seed to be involved in play-in games, and then they’d have to navigate those.
Without Aldridge this all might just be an impossibility. While it’s true that Popovich should never be counted out and that Aldridge’s on/off splits aren’t all that pretty this season, the power forward was needed for this final gauntlet.
San Antonio’s streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances is really on the ropes, and it will take a miracle to extend it.
Sorry, Spurs fans.