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An Interesting Summer Lies Ahead for Santi Aldama

There were many reasons why October, November, and much of December of 2023 was a tough time to endure for the Grizzlies and the fanbase. Beyond injuries and the absence of Ja Morant, one other disappointing development was the fact that the Grizzlies’ young wings were providing little value on the court. Ziaire Williams, David Roddy, and Jake Laravia continued
By Shawn Coleman - June 11, 2024, 8:00 am - 1 comments

There were many reasons why October, November, and much of December of 2023 was a tough time to endure for the Grizzlies and the fanbase. Beyond injuries and the absence of Ja Morant, one other disappointing development was the fact that the Grizzlies’ young wings were providing little value on the court. Ziaire Williams, David Roddy, and Jake Laravia continued to experience more struggles than successes in the early part of their NBA career. If there was one hope among the Grizzlies’ four first round picks in 2021 and 2022, it was Santi Aldama.

While perhaps not quite to the level of a “breakout” season, Aldama likely surprised many with how productive he was during the 2022-2023 season, especially offensively. He showed good promise as a shooting and scoring big, along with competently handling the ball, rebounding, and protecting the rim. He produced a 59.1% true shooting percentage with just over 50% of his shots from three and 28% at the rim, a good shooting profile for a reserve big for Taylor Jenkins and his coaching staff. As the Grizzlies unexpectedly had more than enough minutes to offer their young players to start the 2023-2024 season, many were hoping Aldama would continue to build of his successful sophomore season.

Unfortunately, Aldama’s production stagnated instead of continuing to improve. While he did maintain a 3P% near 35% as his three point attempts increased to five per game, his true shooting percentage regressed to 53.9%. He experienced a noticeable drop in his shot accuracy at the rim, from the free throw line, and on corner threes. He also struggled at times on defense. However, he maintained his rebounding rates from his sophomore year, and improved his production as both a passer and rim protector. He also ended his season with a good stretch of play in March before sitting out much of April. Overall, a fair assessment for Aldama’s third season was that his production was ok, but likely fell a bit short of expectations.

To be fair to Aldama, many Grizzlies saw the quality in their offensive play regress during the 2023-2024 season. A clear reason why is due to several of the Grizzlies’ best players missing most or long stretches of the season. More specifically, the lack of quality point guard play, such as Ja Morant or Tyus Jones, made life tougher for the younger Grizzlies, especially for Aldama. His on/off numbers show that success is a bit easier to find with consistent and trustworthy playmaking to work with:

It should be noted that this should not come as a shocking revelation. Most players will likely see a significant regression in their offensive impact playing without an effective playmaker compared to playing with one, especially younger players. But for a player like Aldama, with nearly 80% of his points being assisted over the past two seasons, effective playmaking is extremely important. Because though Aldama is improving and does add some value in areas outside of scoring, his best trait as a player is his ability to shoot as a big and compliment it with converting opportunities at the rim.

Another development from this past season relevant to Aldama is the emergence of Vince Williams Jr. and GG Jackson. The production from both Williams Jr. and Jackson has made them the most intriguing young players on the Grizzlies in the minds of many, similar to how some viewed Aldama a year ago. Furthermore, judging by the comments that were made by Zach Kleiman, Jenkins, and others through the end of the season, the Grizzlies also view Williams Jr. and Jackson as having big roles in the future of the franchise.

It seems fair to suggest the franchise will prioritize Williams Jr. and Jackson the most among its young players moving forward. The ability of Williams Jr. to impact the game outside of scoring and on defense, along with Jackson’s pedigree and immense potential, makes this a logical decision. The fact that this duo will mostly play as wings would also make it logical that their emergence could impact the futures of players such as Williams and Laravia.

However, it also could impact Aldama, especially in the case of Jackson. Jackson’s offensive ability could provide good value for the Grizzlies over time, and at his size, his best position could be at the 4/as a power forward. While Aldama certainly has some traits of a big, including size, his production and playing style most resembles a wing. Along with his potential, if Jackson proves to be the more valuable offensive asset, he could emerge as a critical component to the Grizzlies’ lineups, especially when Jaren Jackson Jr. plays as a center. That development could certainly make the future roles of Aldama a bit uncertain.

As a result, this summer could be very interesting for Aldama in terms of his value and future with the Grizzlies. The perspectives above are in no way meant to make it seem as if Aldama is an afterthought or of little value. For a team that has stated multiple times that upgrading the front court is a priority this summer, Aldama offers good value in terms of the roster. Furthermore, for a team that also needs offensive depth, Aldama’s upside, especially if Morant and others are healthy, could provide plenty of good and needed production for Memphis.

Therefore, the question with Aldama is not if he has value, but in what way is he most valuable. The answer to that question should not only focus with how Aldama will be utilized on the court; it also could be expanded to whether or not the Grizzlies feel Aldama is expendable as a trade asset. A year ago, the Grizzlies were likely reluctant to include Aldama in potential trade packages to acquire roster upgrades. However, now with the emergence of Williams Jr. and Jackson, and Laravia’s improved play late in the season, the Grizzlies could look to move one or multiple players in trades this summer in the right deal.

Because another factor that could make Aldama expendable is money, or more specifically, cost control. Aldama is by no means expensive, as he will earn just under $4M during the 2024-2025 season, an amount the Grizzlies can easily afford and one that easily makes Aldama a bargain. However, Aldama will be in the final year of his rookie contract next season, and then will be a restricted free agent. Though the Grizzlies could look to extend him this summer, Aldama’s track record could result in him seeking north of $10MM dollars per season. With the Grizzlies roster getting much more expensive next year with Morant, Jackson Jr., and Desmond Bane all on their second NBA contracts, that must be conscientious of every dollar they spend, even if Aldama is sensibly worth that amount.

Additionally, each of Williams Jr., Jackson, and Laravia are similar or cheaper in terms of cost and have multiple years remaining on their contracts (assuming options are picked up.) So not only may the Grizzlies prefer each of these players to Aldama in terms of their play on the court, they are more valuable from a financial standpoint off the court.

Without a doubt, the Grizzlies would likely prefer to trade Ziaire Williams for many of the same reasons mentioned here about Aldama. But for other teams, Aldama likely has more trade value due to being on a cheap and expiring contract plus his skill at his size. These two reasons could make Aldama attractive to many teams anywhere on the competitive timeline. And for a team such as Memphis that does not have an overabundance of players with positive trade value it could be willing to trade, Aldama could be a needed part of a trade package to get a roster updrade.

But of course, as mentioned above, the reasons why other teams could value Aldama are exactly the same as to why he remains valuable in Memphis. Though he may viewed as expendable, that does not mean he is truly available unless the right deal comes along. But with the Grizzlies wanting to once again be in contention next season, the urgency to find that right deal is now at a higher level than it was in the past. And while the return of Ja Morant could help maximize Aldama’s play on the court, his best value may be in a trade acquiring a player who could help maximize Morant’s play on the court.

The future of Santi Aldama is certainly bright, and that future would undoubtedly have good value in Memphis. But if trading Aldama could bring in a player that could raise the ceiling of Memphis as a team overall, his present day value as a trade asset may be worth more than what his future value could bring.


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