SAN ANTONIO — Even after LaMarcus Aldridge notched a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) for the first time as a Spur in the club’s 102-75 victory Friday over the Brooklyn Nets, he admitted he’s “not even close” to the player San Antonio signed.
That’s not because of a decline in skills or any injury as much as it is Aldridge simply “doing what new guys do,” according to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who courted the team’s most prized acquisition over the summer along with a host of others in the organization before signing him to a four-year max contract worth more than $80 million.
“It’s not the same. I’m not the same person here that I was in Portland,” Aldridge said. “I don’t feel like they need me to be that person all the time. It’s learning how to be myself in the offense. I haven’t figured that out yet. I feel like the whole [team philosophy of] ‘good to great passes’ [is] in my head all the time. Hopefully as the season goes on I’ll figure it out. But right now, I’m just trying to fit in.”
As one of six Spurs to score in double figures in the team’s first win of the season, Aldridge continues to search for his niche in a San Antonio offense intent on handing him and Kawhi Leonard the keys to run the show. Aldridge and Leonard (team-high 16 points to go with 10 rebounds) flashed glimpses of how the Spurs might look in the future as they transition away from heavy reliance on Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.
But the next evolution can’t take place until Aldridge becomes completely comfortable. While Aldridge made strides Friday night as the Spurs outscored the Nets 34-17 in the third quarter (60-28 in the second half) to blow open the game, four of his five buckets on the night came on putbacks.
Aldridge also passed on shots against the Nets he probably would have taken during his days in Portland.
“He’s gonna defer here and there, try to fit in,” Popovich said. “It’s natural.”
Aldridge doesn’t deny the coach’s observation.
“I’ve always been the main guy. I’ve always gotten the ball a lot,” Aldridge said. “I’m trying to learn how to play in the offense, trying to learn how to get my shots out of the offense. [I’m] just trying to learn how to move the ball [the way the Spurs do it] and get shots. Pop keeps telling me to shoot it, but it’s a process for me. I’m definitely not playing like myself right now. I can’t be selfish here. I’m just here to win. Tonight, we won. I played good defense down low. I felt like I got some good blocks on defense, and I crashed the boards. So if we can win every game like that, I’m fine. I don’t [look to shoot]. We’ll figure it out, though.”
When Aldridge joined San Antonio in July, coming off a season in Portland in which he averaged a career-high 23.4 points to go with 10.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists, some observers saw a player who clashed with the Spurs’ style of basketball.
Aldridge arrived having led the NBA in 2-point attempts in each of the past three seasons with a steady array of long jumpers and turnarounds, highlighted by his ability to stretch the floor by spotting up and creating open 3s for teammates in pick-and-pops.
“Each game gets better. I think it’s a process for all of us, how to use me. For me to find my spots I’m gonna have to be aggressive,” Aldridge said. “But now, I think I’m just getting offensive boards, and that’s fine for now. We understand it’s going to be a process for us to be more comfortable out there, be sharper. As the season goes on, things will be better.”