The Spurs announced Saturday morning that LaMarcus Aldridge is out for an indefinite period after experiencing a minor heart arrhythmia. “All parties have concluded that at the current time, it is best for Aldridge to refrain from play until further tests and examinations are completed,” the Spurs said in the statement.
This isn’t the first instance of Aldridge experiencing heart trouble. His rookie season in 2007 was cut short after he was diagnosed with and treated for Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, an electrical abnormality that can cause a rapid or irregular heartbeat. In December 2011, Aldridge underwent a second procedure to correct a recurrence of the syndrome. The condition is not usually life-threatening, but it can cause serious problems if unmonitored. It remains to be seen how long Aldridge’s absence will last; in 2011, he was sidelined for about a week and a half before returning to activity.
With a six-game lead over the 3-seed Rockets with one month left in the regular season, the Spurs have enough of a cushion that they aren’t likely to lose the 2 seed, even without Aldridge. San Antonio is 5–1 in games without him, and they have enough depth to fill his shoes by committee using the likes of Pau Gasol and David Lee. Gasol was just shifted to the bench, but in the short term it’d makes sense for him to return to the starting five since he can fill a similar role as a secondary scorer, operating primarily from midrange.
Over a combined 103 minutes, the Spurs are outscoring current Western Conference playoff teams by 15.1 points per 100 possessions when Aldridge is off the floor and Kawhi Leonard is on, per NBAWowy. When Leonard and Aldridge share the floor, the differential is only 2.9. Does that mean they’re better without Aldridge? No, of course not.
The former sample (with Leonard, without Aldridge) is small and insignificant with variables that are difficult to account for, like opponent lineups and game situation. Regardless, the playoffs are a different monster. Rotations are tightened and teams are unleashing their best lineups, causing a domino effect. The Spurs might perform well pairing Leonard and Gasol in the short term, but there are no guarantees they’ll maintain that production if San Antonio is forced to turn to its end-of-bench players — the reserves that would be squeezed out of the rotation if the team is healthy.
Leonard would need to shoulder an extremely heavy load in the early rounds, which he could be capable of doing. But Aldridge is undoubtedly a vital and important secondary threat that takes defensive attention away from Leonard. The Spurs can thrive without him over the final month of the season, but they’ll need their star power forward back to make a run at another title.