Season 51, Game 21
San Antonio 104, Memphis 95
14-7, 3rd in the West

This is the LaMarcus Aldridge that was promised.

We all had a vision of what LMA would be in a Spurs’ uniform. Perhaps our expectations were too high. Regardless, these last 2 seasons, he has not met them.

When he signed with the Spurs in the summer of 2015, the conventional wisdom was: imagine what LMA can be in the Spurs’ system? What will Pop and the coaching staff unlock in his game?

In his first season, he was good, but not great. He was still an All-Star, but his numbers weren’t necessarily what we were expecting and he didn’t seem as dominating as his days in Portland.

His second season was even more disappointing, though not as bad as we collectively remember it.

But something was happening in those two seasons: slowly, and under the radar, Pop and his staff was unlocking something in Aldridge. He was becoming a better defender, a better passer, a more aggressive offensive player, a better “big man”. All of those little things we were wanting were growing, they just hadn’t fully developed.

Before the season, Pop artfully took the blame, saying he was trying too hard to coach him, and he wasn’t letting Aldridge just be himself. This is true, in a sense. But it discounts that the team had spent two years grooming him to be a better player. But what Pop wasn’t doing was letting Aldridge be the free (and effective) scorer he had been in Portland.

With Kawhi sidelined, the team had to be built around Aldridge’s offensive game. But now, with two years equity in the Spurs’ culture, Aldridge is a more well-rounded player. He doesn’t just rely on his jumper. He’s not a one-dimensional player. When he’s not scoring, he defends, crashes the boards, orchestrates the offense from the post, and makes energy plays. He attacks opposing defenses relentlessly.

(It also helps that he’s shooting better than he has the last two seasons.)

This is the LA that I think we were all expecting. “Portland LaMarcus” with San Antonio seasoning. It’s no small feat to be third in the Western Conference as the only headlining player.

So now the Spurs season gets really interesting: can Kawhi and this LaMarcus coexist? I don’t have an answer, but I can’t wait to find out.

If they can, the Spurs have as potent a duo as any team in the league. Steph-KD, Harden-Paul; Kawhi-LA could go toe-to-toe with either of them.

If this LA is here to stay, the Spurs season just got a whole lot more interesting.

The Spurs play the Grizzlies again on Friday night in Memphis.

Go Spurs Go.