LaMarcus Aldridge’s Three-Point Shooting a Game-Changer for the Spurs

Over LaMarcus Aldridge’s career, he has established himself as one of the most skilled big men in the NBA. His combination of shooting touch, size and strength has made him difficult to defend. Despite that, Aldridge’s game has been fairly polarizing.

Some have seen his overreliance on mid-range jumpers as an issue, despite Aldridge being one of the best mid-range shooters in the NBA. After all, the shot itself is inherently inefficient. Even the best shooters from that range connect on only about 45% of their attempts.

This season, however, Aldridge has shown a commitment to extending his range by taking more three-pointers. Aldridge is shooting 2.1 three-pointers per game on 43.8% shooting and both marks are career-highs. He has stated that he would like to take even more three-pointers per game and over his last eleven contests, Aldridge has upped his attempts to 3.0 per game.

Why LaMarcus Aldridge is Shooting More Threes

The sudden interest in shooting more threes is likely a result of his early success. LaMarcus Aldridge has been trying to incorporate more three-point shooting since the 2014-15 season. The results haven’t been linear, however, with his attempts per game fluctuating from season to season.

In the past, Aldridge has seemed hesitant to even take threes — often opting to dribble into a mid-range jumper instead of taking the open shot. That said, he has always shown the capability of extending his range.

This season, Aldridge appears more than comfortable shooting from beyond the arc, particularly on above the break threes. In fact, all but 10 of his 64 three-point attempts have come from those spots.

Why LaMarcus Aldridge Shooting Three-Pointers is Important for the Spurs

LaMarcus Aldridge taking more threes should have a positive impact on the Spurs offense, if nothing else because they desperately need more outside shooting. The Spurs rank last in the league in three-point attempts, averaging just 27.0 per game.

Teams often employ lineups with at least four or even five shooters sharing the floor. For the Spurs, however, that hasn’t been the case.

As constituted, San Antonio’s starting lineup — consisting of DeJounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, Demar DeRozan, Trey Lyles and Aldridge — suffers from a lack of spacing. The same can be said for many of the lineups that have played together this season.

Encouraging Aldridge, and other players such as Murray and DeRozan outside of the hired guns, to shoot more threes has led to incremental improvement. Much like Jacob Riis’ quote about the stonecutter, the Spurs can continue to chip away at their biggest offensive weakness: three-point shooting.

Gregg Popovich’s Stance on Three-Pointers

San Antonio has been slow to adapt to the league-wide offensive evolution of taking more threes. Instead, the Spurs have focused on quality and not quantity. The Spurs often rank as one of the best three-point shooting teams percentage-wise. That said, with teams such as the Houston Rockets taking nearly 45 threes per game, being judicious about their attempts has put the Spurs at a competitive disadvantage.

Shooting a high percentage on a moderate amount of attempts, as was the case for San Antonio last season, is fine. On the other hand, taking as many as 45 threes — even if the three-point percentage is lower — more than makes up for the accuracy disparity.

Still, San Antonio has managed to have a semi-successful offense, despite bucking league trends. The offense is centered around Aldridge and DeRozan, who rank first and second in the NBA in mid-range jumpers attempts.

That said, coach Gregg Popovich still appears conscious about the team’s lack of spacing. Starting Lyles and Forbes, playing Marco Belinelli, and not playing Murray and Derrick White together, all seem to be direct results of his concern.

How a Three-Pointer Shooting LaMarcus Aldridge Would Change These Spurs

LaMarcus Aldridge taking more threes could change what lineups Popovich is willing to play. For example, Aldridge and Poeltl haven’t shared the floor much this season, in large part due to spacing concerns. With Aldridge now spotting up behind the arc more, he is able to pull his defender further away from the rim. A volume shooter such as Patty Mills or Forbes in addition to a sniper like White can add just enough spacing to help DeRozan create in such lineups.

It’s possible that we could even see lineups that feature Murray and White together. Alongside Aldridge and DeRozan, and another shooter such as Rudy Gay, the Spurs could finally have a lineup that features good defense as well as adequate spacing.

Playing primarily at center, Aldridge’s shooting has the added benefit of pulling the opposing team’s big man away from the basket. With other teams playing increasingly smaller, the Spurs could benefit from their lack of rim protection.

Teams are still adjusting to Aldridge extending his shooting range as well as his aggressiveness in seeking out that shot. He has been able to take advantage of defenders losing track of him or not closing out quick enough.

Aldridge is unlikely to sustain his blistering three-point shooting percentage. However, his confidence to continue taking outside shots has a chance to stick around all season. Stretch fives, let alone one as talented as Aldridge, are rare but increasingly necessary.

After another slow start to a season, Aldridge’s game is rounding into its usual form. This season, however, he has added a new tool to his already impressive skillset. His evolving game makes him valuable commodity to the Spurs and, perhaps, to other teams.