Lowe’s 10 things: Boston’s big-man situation, Knicks' fatigue and the Spurs' new threat


A special “8 things” edition with a supersized Item One:

1. Welcome to the 3-point era, LaMarcus Aldridge!

Turns out, the perception that Gregg Popovich — increasingly cantankerous about the tyranny of 3s — hemmed in Aldridge was incorrect. After last season, Popovich approached Aldridge and suggested the team would need him to shoot more 3s, Aldridge told ESPN.com.

The Spurs ranked sixth in points per possession last season, largely on the back of incredible shooting that helped them overcome retrograde shot selection. A small slump, and they would lose their uphill battle against math.

Aldridge amped up his 3-point reps over the summer. And then the season started, and Aldridge barely tried any. The Spurs’ shooting indeed fell a bit shy of last season’s levels. In mid-December, Popovich met with Aldridge again. It was time, the coach said.

“We had a couple of bad shooting games, and Pop came to me and said, ‘I think you need to start shooting it to open up the floor,'” Aldridge said. “It would give DeMar [DeRozan] more room. So I just started doing it.”

For reasons Aldridge can’t quite explain, he felt ready. He knows the transition came more slowly than fans hoped — slower than for Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, and Brook Lopez.

“It has taken me longer than those guys,” Aldridge said. “I just had to do it my way.” Part of that involves taking the occasional off-the-dribble 3 — including a few step-backs. Aldridge just likes that rhythm dribble. Popovich doesn’t mind. “He’s letting me shoot them my way,” Aldridge said.

Before Dec. 23, Aldridge averaged 1.7 3-point attempts per game. On that night against Memphis, he went 3-of-5. He has jacked 4.7 per game since. The exchange has come almost entirely out of midrange shots. Aldridge has hit a career-best 43% on 3s. He is literally one of the best 3-point shooters in the league right now. Welcome to the party, pal!

Popovich has never urged him to chill with the 3s. “He’s been on the other side of the spectrum,” Aldridge said. “‘You should have taken 10. Take 11.'”

The Spurs rank second in points per possession since that Dec. 23 game. They have outscored opponents by 8.8 points per 100 possessions with Aldridge and DeRozan on the floor over those 15 games, reversing a season-plus of data pointing the other direction.

DeRozan has feasted in open space. He just concluded a streak of 13 games in which he scored at least 20 points on 50% or better shooting. (He still mostly refuses 3s, and even when he tries, he often has a toe on the line. It’s almost as if he’s doing a bit, only it’s more infuriating than funny.) With Aldridge willing to spot up in the corner, DeRozan has taken to running pick-and-rolls with Bryn Forbes and other guards — daring the opposition to switch a smaller player onto him. If they trap or hedge, DeRozan knifes through crevices and saunters to the rim with no big man help defender in sight.

“I’m gonna start taxing DeMar for all these open lanes,” Aldridge chuckled.

Opponents are already switching the DeRozan-Aldridge pick-and-roll more often, rather than allowing Aldridge to flare out for uncontested 3s. Both are exploiting the resulting mismatches.

Every ball handler has noticed the improved spacing.

“It helps me for sure,” Dejounte Murray told ESPN.com. “It was just a matter of [Aldridge] feeling comfortable. He’s the player. No one else can speak for how comfortable he is.”

It seems to be rubbing off on Murray. He has canned 14 3s since Dec. 16 after making only 23 in his career to that point. If Murray can hit jumpers, Popovich might entrust him with more ballhandling. “Hopefully I have freedom to do more,” he said.

The change required minimal redesign. That was what grated about Aldridge’s stagnancy: San Antonio’s offense organically produced chances for Aldridge to launch — pick-and-pops, trail 3s, natural clearouts to the corner when DeRozan drove. Aldridge would either stop a foot short of the line, or step inside it.

“I had to reprogram my mind: ‘Don’t take that step in,'” Aldridge said. “‘Space to the 3. Don’t trail inside for a 2.'”

Aldridge becoming a deep threat might reopen the possibility of him and Jakob Poeltl playing together — something that could stabilize San Antonio’s 23rd-ranked defense. Popovich has largely mothballed that look after using it a lot last season. “The floor was too clogged,” Aldridge said. “But [shooting 3s] could help us play bigger.”

Outside of a Jan. 12 game against Toronto, Popovich has kept the double-big look on ice. It requires Aldridge to defend power forwards, and he might not be up for that anymore. He has lost a half-step, something that shows up in his decreased free throws and offensive rebounds. Shooting more 3s is also a concession to aging.

Regardless, it helps San Antonio’s offense. Aldridge doesn’t plan to stop. He’s from Texas. He chose the Spurs. He does not want to be on the San Antonio team that busts the franchise’s 22-year playoff streak — especially with Popovich and Tim Duncan, the living embodiments of that streak, watching from the sidelines.

“You never want to be the one that ends the legacy,” Aldridge said.

2. A moment for Derrick Favors

As Zion Mania overtakes us, let’s take a moment to appreciate Favors’ work holding together New Orleans when he has been available. He’s shooting a career-best 63%, and blowing away prior high-water marks in rebounding. He has been a steadying presence on both ends.

He has flashed nimble pitter-pat footwork and midair body control in finishing on the pick-and-roll:

That is straight-up balletic, big fella! Patience and balance have helped Favors avoid offensive fouls. He has hit a very nice 46% on shots between 3 and 10 feet from the rim, per Basketball-Reference.

New Orleans has scored 1.105 points per possession on any trip featuring a Favors ball screen, a solid number, and they have rarely turned the ball over on such plays, per Second Spectrum. The Brandon Ingram-Favors combo has been deadly: 1.174 points per possession.

Favors hasn’t been airtight on defense — opponents have hit 65% of shots at the rim with Favors nearby — but the Pelicans’ shell is harder to penetrate when he’s on the floor; opponents generate many fewer attempts in the restricted area when Favors plays, per Cleaning The Glass.

3. New York veteran frontcourt fatigue

Nothing against any of these guys. Taj Gibson is a grinder and a beloved teammate. He’s on fire right now. Julius Randle‘s offense has perked up over the last month. He just turned 25, so New York’s brass can reasonably argue he is part of its young core. The mismatched Randle-Mitchell Robinson pairing has been a slight net-plus over the past five weeks.

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