Nylon Calculus

Is there enough room for DeRozan and Aldridge?

With the recent departure of former “future of the franchise” Kawhi Leonard, as well as team fixture Danny Green, it is fair to wonder what exactly the long-term plan in San Antonio is. For the first time since the before the days of David Robinson, the Spurs find themselves without a clear cornerstone to plan their future around. For so many years they were the proverbial model franchise, the Spurs now find themselves in the unenviable position that plagues so many other teams in the league — needing to find a superstar.

That’s not to say things are all bad in San Antonio though. Without Leonard’s services for nearly the entire year last season, the Spurs managed to claw their way to a seventh seed and 47-35 record in the brutal Western Conference. While never really a threat to unseat the Warriors and Rockets, that a 47-win campaign constitutes a low water mark for the Spurs in recent memory is a testament to the transcendence of the franchise.

One of the primary contributors to the Spurs success last season, LaMarcus Aldridge was his usual solid self last season as the team’s leading scorer, and helping the team post a respectable 107.8 offensive rating while he was on the floor. The following is Aldridge’s 3D shot chart from the previous season.

It is interesting to note Aldridge’s reliance on the left side mid-range. The Spurs have long been ahead of the curve when it comes to organizational trends in the NBA and most fans are well aware that the mid-range jumper is incredibly out of fashion. That Aldridge is so dependent on them seems especially relevant due to the fact that the big name that the Spurs received in the Leonard trade, DeMar DeRozan, is also known as a prodigious mid-range shooter. In fact, Aldridge and DeRozan ranked second and third, respectively in the NBA in field goal attempts from 10-14 feet out from the basket last season, trailing only Kristaps Porzingis. The following is DeRozan’s shot chart from the previous season.

Similar to Aldridge, despite a lack of focus on the most efficient shots possible, DeRozan makes it work to the tune of an elite 112.2 offensive rating for the Raptors when he was on the floor, which ranked 22nd in the entire NBA amongst players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game for at least 10 games last season. While neither Aldridge nor DeRozan are perfect players, the Spurs should improve their pedestrian 17th-ranked 1.1045 offensive points per possession last year by adding an elite offensive player and sliding their second best offensive player into a position where he can perhaps be a bit more selective. While it is easy to label the duo’s respective games as nonconforming to “ideal” basketball, ultimately the results are decided on the court. They are both proven players who should make the Spurs better by adding reliable scoring options to an offensively challenged team.

With an elite fourth-ranked 1.07 defensive points per possession, the Spurs are well positioned to make some noise in the playoffs assuming the addition of DeRozan raises the effectiveness of the offense. While no one will be picking them in the in a series against a team like the Golden State Warriors, the Spurs have a puncher’s chance of taking on nearly anyone in the postseason.

All of this is not to say that the success of the Kawhi Leonard trade for San Antonio is totally dependent on DeRozan, as they will also be adding Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 protected first round pick. While the odds of a non-lottery pick turning into a franchise-altering talent are not great, the Spurs’ record with turning late first-rounders into useful NBA players speaks for itself. Even so, Jakob Poeltl’s potential to turn into a high quality starter cannot be ignored. The following is a profile of Poeltl’s offensive game.

Poeltl Offense by Playtype

While the young player is still growing into his offensive game, the fact that Poeltl thrives as an offensive rebounder, in transition, and pick-and-roll big is encouraging for his future. While the ‘potential’ label has a tendency to be thrown around loosely, Jakob Poeltl reeks of it as a player who can impact both ends of the floor for his team given his athleticism and touch around the rim.

Ultimately, in trading for DeRozan, Poeltl and the pick, the Spurs found a way to improve both their immediate title prospects and long-term future (within the paradigm of Kawhi having to be traded). DeMar DeRozan gives them a legitimate offensive star to improve the team in the short term, especially given the impending free agency of LaMarcus Aldridge, and Poeltl and a 2019 pick add to an exciting stable of future assets. Barring a monumental collapse in Toronto, the Spurs will be able to pick twice in the upcoming 2019 draft. That the organization picked Lonnie Walker, a naturally gifted player with substantial need for development to pair with defensive stud Dejounte Murray, and the organizations propensity for hitting home runs on later draft picks should assuage any fans’ fears that the Spurs aren’t planning for the future.

Next: How does Josh Jackson build on the end of last season?

While Aldridge and DeRozan might not be the average fan’s idea of a prototypical NBA superstar, that San Antonio was able to stay competitive right now while stockpiling future assets feels about as Spurs as it gets. The need for a franchise cornerstone still exists, but keeping the team competitive without hamstringing the future ensures that San Antonio remains an attractive destination for NBA players, or at least the ones who aren’t Kawhi Leonard.

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