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Choose Your Own Adventure: The Thrilling Breakthrough Of Santi Aldama

!WARNING! This piece contains many different adventures as you reassess Santi Aldama following his FIBA play…Your choices may lead to success or disaster…
By Luke Hatmaker - September 13, 2023, 8:00 am - 0 comments

There’s something special about watching international basketball.

I’m not sure what it is about global hoops—quicker pace, more fluid games, early start times—but I love this time of year.

Does it help that play occurs smack dab in the middle of the dog days of summer for hoops fans? Sure. But there’s more to it than that.

It isn’t just that we’re getting our first taste of basketball in months; it’s that there are guys in each exhibition of the tourney who are putting on an absolute clinic. I’m talking about some special play from dudes. Play we otherwise wouldn’t see stateside.

I’d put Santi Aldama in that category.

Despite Spain suffering a relatively early exit in the tournament, opponents felt Santi’s presence.

In five FIBA appearances this year, he averaged 11.2 PTS, 4.2 REB, 0.8 AST, and 1 BLK.

And that was while playing 8 minutes in one of the games.

Now, before you start hollering questions like, “How can teams feel his presence with that mediocre stat line,” may I remind you of a little thing called—there’s no way for this word not to sound pretentious, so forgive me, please—intangibles.

It’s about more than stats, you know?

The confidence Aldama exhibited throughout the tournament was that of a man possessed. And he showed his play could match—20 PTS with three made 3s in his first game—that confidence. He did so while the entire world was watching, too.

I don’t see a place for ‘confidence’ in the box score, but it matters.

Which puts Memphis in quite the adventure ahead of the season. Santi’s FIBA play is but a single factor in the conundrum. How the front office may or may not feel about some of the other projects is another one, as is who they do/do not sign.

Regardless, the time has come to make some decisions on the roster and the rotation. There is no sense in getting caught at training camp with your pants around your legs and not being ready, right? Has Santi proven in his three years to be deserving of a roster spot? The choice is yours, adventurer…


This piece is different from other pieces. You and YOU ALONE are in charge of what happens this Memphis ‘offseason.’ There are dangers, choices, adventures, and consequences. YOU must use all of your numerous talents and much of your enormous intelligence. The wrong decision could end in disaster—even death…

But don’t despair. At any time, YOU can go back and make another choice, alter the path of your story, and change its result… As Santi Aldama returns from hooping in FIBA, he’s made a tough roster decision, even harder...’

If it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it, so turn to #9

I’m not one to brag…

So I won’t…

But… if I did…

You would hear me brag about how I had a feeling in my chicken legs that last season would happen. It seemed to me that when Memphis deployed ‘Slim Spain’ his rookie year, Aldama was always ready.

In limited minutes his rookie year, Santi was fine, but it was his per 36-minute stats that caught my eye. They screamed, “Hey! Remember me? I was playing against grown men before I was 18. Remember? FIBA 2019? Euro Championships? Doesn’t matter. Point is: I can frickin’ hoop.”

Or that may have only been what I heard. Regardless, those per 36-minute numbers are more than fine… They’re pretty good. Memphis took note, and low-and-behold, Santi saw an increase in minutes.

Last season, Aldama went from barely seeing the court—11.3 min—to an actual rotation piece—21.8 min. He was of enormous importance to this Memphis team last season—more of a jack of all trades, master of none for the Grizzlies.

Santi ranked in the upper 50th percent of the league in team efficiency, as well as 7 of the 8 four factors per Cleaning the Glass. The only area he ranked in the lower half league-wide was in offensive FT rate. Otherwise—on both offense and defense—the Spaniard held his own.

I only expect Aldama to continue his growth this upcoming season, especially when you consider he has another round of FIBA play under his belt. If Santi remains the ninth guy in Memphis’ rotation, AND he improves? You can do a great deal worse if you’re the Grizzlies.

If you’re more of a ‘high risk, high reward’ guy turn to #3

Now… this is where things get interesting. You could choose, based on all the evidence you’ve seen from Santi, that it’s time. It’s time for a larger and more challenging role with this Memphis squad.

Challenging may not be the optimal word… let’s say new role. Why not? He’s shown nothing but adaptability since the Grizzlies drafted him. Which—and I mean no shade here—is more than their other 2021 draft pick.

I’m a big fan of Ziaire, but there’s no denying that Aldama—for whatever reason—has developed faster. Of all the talk surrounding Z at the 3, why shouldn’t Santi have a go at it? Why not start him at the 3 for the opening tip of the season?

I mean… sure, he didn’t play the position at all last year… I don’t see that hindering a damn thing, though. Aldama has a much higher hoops IQ than he gets credit for, as shown by his frontcourt versatility. Imagine if that versatility extended to this spot.

Here’s my thought process. Of all 2-man lineups deployed by TJ in at least 25 games, do you know who had the best net rating? Jaren Jackson Jr. and Santi with 22.7. Trip and Steven Adams came in 4th with 14.0. With Steve-O and Aldama coming right outside the top-20—22nd—with 5.4.

There’s a math property or theorem—that’s a word, google it—that explains this better than I can… But if each is good when separated, it stands they should excel if combined. You know, if it looks like a duck and talks like a duck… It’s most likely a frickin’ duck.

So it is with lineups. If they look like they’ll work, why would you not at least try it? This is, of course, the more high-risk, high-reward option… but you’ll look like a less crazy Doc Brown if it works! And isn’t that the dream? To look like a less crazy Doc Brown?

If team’s make an offer you can’t refuse, turn to #2

I’m aware I’ve said this before, but I need it to stick…

I do not want to trade Santi Aldama.

But, if I was an opposing team looking at the Memphis roster in an attempt to find a player to fit my own? Yes. The player I would try and trade for is Aldama.

Do I want to trade him? No. Would I want to trade for him so he’s on my roster? Hard yes.

Ok. Now that that’s out of the way… This choice may be the riskiest of the bunch by far. And not because you run the risk of getting run out of town. Trade talks and this Grizzlies’ roster have caused Twitt- er… ‘X’-feuds to spread like wildfire.

Why is that? Well, Aldama has been on an upward trajectory since he was drafted. The chances of this continuing are—I imagine—pretty high. Why trade that away?

Consider that you may not be able to say that about the other young projects the Grizzlies’ have drafted. The other guys’ trajectories are a bit more enigmatic.

If you trade Santi, you’d be letting a player walk out the door whose skill you’re aware of. You’d be doing this in favor of the unknown, most likely. Unless you are assuming you’re able to get a roster upgrade with Aldama as part of a package… Trading Aldama for draft picks alone would be asinine.

But, if Memphis can package Santi with another contract or two… Say, Isaiah Todd, Josh Christopher, hell, even John Konchar’s an option. Combine some of these contracts with—Best Defensive Player of the World Cup—Dillon Brooks’ TPE…

Well, the opportunity may present itself to give the roster a significant upgrade. It’s at least a possibility. They would have until sometime in February to make a decision.

Again, not one that I want to do. I mentioned the ‘X’-feuds, right? Alright. I can’t say I didn’t warn you, adventurers.

If there’s too many cooks in the kitchen turn to #23

‘You are so weak the effort of trying to haul yourself up the vine is too much for you. You lose your grip and fall headlong ten meters down on the dirt floor and land on a pile of bones. Unable to move and semiconscious, you feel helpless as hundreds of Flesh Grubs crawl on you to begin their feast.’

…Did he say Flesh Grubs? I am not sure there’s ever a reason for those two words to be side by side in a sentence… but what do I know? I’m not a word scientist.

Look, it’s within the realm of possibility that the front office and the coaching staff pull a 180. It could be that they view the ceiling on their other young guys much higher than Santi (not all of them). Or it could be they see his floor as lower than the others (it’s not).

They may say the locker room is too full of projects (maybe). Too many cooks in the kitchen, as it were. Regardless, if that’s the case, they could choose to cut him after training camp. They have lots of dudes and say there is not enough developmental time to go around.

This would no doubt be a choice.

One that I would rank in the top 5 of ‘Dumbest Things the Memphis Front Office Has Ever Done.’ You know, right up there with the Chandler Parson’s thing. So yeah. The ball’s in their court, I guess.

What outcome would you like for Santi Aldama?

In what may be the most exciting and riskiest adventure of the offseason, Santi Aldama is ready to go. He’ll be going on the adventure himself when you think about it, as he is entering a season in which he is extension-eligible and coming off solid FIBA play… I’d imagine he wishes to continue his current direction.

If Santi balls out even more in his third year, the options ahead will branch out further. Will he continue his trajectory with the Grizzlies—as a starter or otherwise? Or will his breakthrough not be enough for Memphis to contain? Will they elect to sell high, trading him away? If so, it better be for something damn good.

The choice is yours, adventurers. And Santi Aldama’s fate hangs in the balance…

Photo by:(Juan Ocampo/NBAE) Interested in other adventures? Click here for the entire series.


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