While the NBA's revamped playoff format for the 2019-20 season will give the San Antonio Spurs a real chance at reaching the postseason, they will have to try to do so without arguably their best player. LaMarcus Aldridge underwent shoulder surgery on April 24 to repair an injury suffered in February and is now out for the season, the Spurs announced Monday. He is expected to be fully cleared in time for training camp for the 2020-21 season.
The Spurs have reached the playoffs 22 seasons in a row, which ties them with the Philadelphia 76ers (and their prior incarnation, the Syracuse Nationals) for the longest such streak in NBA history. That streak has never faced a greater threat than it does today. The Spurs enter the renewed regular season in 12th place in the Western Conference, trailing the No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies by four games. Should the No. 9 seed finish within four games of No. 8, they would force a play-in tournament in which the No. 9 seed would have to beat the No. 8 seed twice in a row to steal their playoff spot.
Aldridge's raw numbers of 18.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game are down from his All-Star stats of the previous two seasons, but it could be argued that he has done more to affect winning this season than he did in either of the last two. That comes down to a decision fans have waited years for. Aldridge, one of the NBA's best mid-range shooters, has finally pushed his range behind the 3-point line consistently. After shooting only 28.3 percent on 0.4 3-point attempts per game over the first 13 years of his career, Aldridge has attempted 4.2 per game since Dec. 23 and has made 41.6 percent of them. Since then, the Spurs have scored a stellar 115.4 points per 100 possessions with Aldridge on the court.
San Antonio now has very few options to turn to in their frontcourt, and that comes down to a number of poor decisions on their part. During the offseason, they traded future star shooter Davis Bertans to the Washington Wizards in order to create the cap space to sign Marcus Morris, who then reneged on their agreement to join the New York Knicks. Only three days before Aldridge's injury, the Spurs bought out versatile forward DeMarre Carroll, allowing him to join the Houston Rockets. That will force the Spurs to rely on younger players like Trey Lyles, Luka Samanic and Chimezie Metu.
If nothing else, that will give San Antonio a glimpse into its future. Aldridge will turn 35 in July, and his contract expires after next season. Aldridge's days as a superstar for the Spurs were limited as it was. After this injury, both his future and San Antonio's are in even greater doubt.