Although the San Antonio Spurs and 21 other teams will be back in action when the NBA resumes play on July 31, the Spurs won’t have the services of LaMarcus Aldridge. The star big man is out until the 2020-21 season after it was revealed that he underwent shoulder surgery in April.
While Aldridge was in uniform the last time we saw the Spurs play — a 119-109 victory over the Dallas Mavericks — he had missed the previous six games due to a right shoulder strain. The surgery he underwent in April was to the same shoulder.
San Antonio’s Playoff Hopes Without LaMarcus Aldridge
Without arguably their best player, the Spurs went from a longshot to make the 2020 playoffs to an even longer shot. Even at age 34, Aldridge remains a positive force on both ends of the court. When he gets hot, there are only a handful of big men in the NBA who can keep up with him. San Antonio’s best chances of making the playoffs revolved around Aldridge doing a lot of the carrying.
This season, the Spurs are 4-6 in games that Aldridge has missed. That sounds bad but, then again, they are only 23-30 in games he has played. Aldridge will certainly be missed but this news alone doesn’t doom San Antonio’s already slim chances.
The good news is that Jakob Poeltl should be ready to go. He had missed the last five games due to a knee injury but the forced COVID-19 vacation should have given his knee sufficient time to heal. Poeltl will slide into Aldridge’s center position.
We’ve witnessed Poeltl blossom at times this season when filling in for Aldridge, including games of 16 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks against the Chicago Bulls and six points, 15 rebounds, five assists and five blocks against the Houston Rockets.
Considering Poeltl will be a restricted free agent in the offseason, this news could actually be a positive because the Spurs will get eight games to see if the Austrian is worth investing in as the center of the future. Expect him to play big minutes in Orlando, especially because the Spurs don’t have much in terms of a third string center.
How the Spurs Will Alter the Rotation
Beyond Poeltl moving into the starting lineup, Drew Eubanks being transitioned from a two-way contract to the active roster makes sense. He has played well at times this year and he could see minutes at backup center with Aldridge sidelined.
Head coach Gregg Popovich had experimented with Rudy Gay at center and that’s an alignment we’re sure to see more of in the season’s final eight games. Though he’s undersized for the position, he’s strong enough to survive against most modern day big men and he competes well enough on the boards to buy spot minutes in the middle. On offense, his outside shooting helps spread the court.
Like Poeltl, the Spurs could use this time without Aldridge to get an even better look at Trey Lyles. In the previous six games before the NBA suspended play, Lyles averaged 15.3 points and 6.7 rebounds on 47.8% shooting from the floor and 47.1% shooting from three-point range. The Spurs will need to decide whether to pick up their team option after the season so getting him extra minutes in Orlando will make that an easier decision.
Overall, while Aldridge missing the rest of the regular season isn’t ideal, there are some silver linings to point to. Besides, with the rules protecting San Antonio’s current draft position, the Spurs are facing a win-win situation no matter what happens in the final eight regular season games.