Is LaMarcus Aldridge Due to Start Declining Soon?

LaMarcus Aldridge has been the anchor of the San Antonio Spurs since the dynastic era of the Big Three ended. In his first four seasons with the Silver and Black, he averaged 20 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks, making the All-Star team in three of the four years.

Wednesday night, Aldridge started the season off just as expected, putting up 22 points to go along with eight rebounds and a couple of blocks. In a less than ideal team performance, Aldridge, along with Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes, helped carry the Spurs to a 120-111 victory.

After the recent move the Spurs made to fully guarantee the remaining $24 million in Aldridge’s contract, the question now arises regarding whether it was the best move for the organization. Within that question lies the bigger question: Is LaMarcus Aldridge capable of playing to the standards of his new guaranteed money considering his age?

At 34 years old, the 6-foot-11 veteran has already had to deal with age-related questions at media day this season:

Coming from media that covers a team that held onto Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and David Robinson as long as they did, it’s easy to see why age-related questions would be humorous for him.

The History of the Spurs and Aging Bigs

If extending your playing career is your ultimate goal, Gregg Popovich is the man to go to. One reason Coach Pop has established himself as the greatest coach in NBA history is how much he cares for his players. That whole “load management” craze that every team is suddenly doing now? Yeah, that was him.

David Robinson is just one example of a player still being effective for San Antonio well past his prime. The Admiral began his career at age 24 and averaged 38 minutes per game over his first seven seasons. From age 32 until his retirement at 37, his minutes went down to 30.4 per game, yet his effectiveness still remained high. Robinson made his last All-Star appearance at the age of 35.

Tim Duncan played an average of 36.9 minutes per game for his first 12 seasons until reaching the age of 33, when his minutes would go down to 28.8. Still, the Big Fundamental would average 13.9 points and 8.9 rebounds or better for every season except his last, when he averaged 8.6 and 7.3 before retiring at age 39. Duncan’s last All-Star appearance came in 2014-15 at the age of 38.

Should This Trend Be Expected for LaMarcus Aldridge?

Let’s start by stating the obvious: Duncan and Robinson were both once-in-a-generation talents to which most players pale in comparison. Aldridge is a special player, but not at the level of Duncan and Robinson. Still, the history San Antonio has for caring for their stars, from Coach Pop to the training staff, bodes well for Aldridge.

One advantage he has over Duncan and Robinson in regard to career longevity is his style of play. Duncan and Robinson were both inside-out players for the majority of their careers, which led to some injury-plagued seasons.

Aldridge’s bread and butter, conversely, is his midrange game. His turnaround fadeaway is one of the best in the league and greatly limits his contact with opponents. If he can develop his three-point jumper into a reliable weapon, that could further aid his staying power.

All in all, Aldridge has everything working for him when it comes to preserving his body and on-court production. If any slowing down happens over the next year or two, it’s more likely to be a drop in minutes rather than a drop in per-minute production.

Is a precipitous drop in Aldridge’s productivity possible in the next couple of years? Sure. Would I bet on that happening? Absolutely not.