Sustaining Success with Santi Aldama
The past year has been very eye-opening for the Memphis Grizzlies franchise in many different ways. Without a doubt, the various aspects of the Grizzlies roster, both on and off the court, that the franchise has realized over the past year has been significant. There have been both positive and negative developments, as some questions have been answered while others have developed over time.
However, as many things have changed and evolved, for better or worse, over the past year, one aspect of the Grizzlies remains relatively the same. That aspect is that the Grizzlies young group of combo forwards, a position Memphis has heavily invested in over the past two drafts, remains a critical component to the future success of the Memphis Grizzlies. Without a doubt, this is plenty of talent and potential when it comes to Ziaire Williams, Santi Aldama, Jake Laravia, and David Roddy. However, plenty of questions remain as to when and if that potential will lead to produciton for a few of these Grizzlies. Furthermore, the need to determine that answer is of high priority this summer and heading into next season.
The continued development of this part of the Grizzlies roster is one of the most significant storylines of the summer. Fortunately, when it comes to Santi Aldama, the question is not if he can be successful and productive. The focus for Aldama is helping him find the consistency to sustain his success no matter the stage he is playing on.
Successful Sophomore Season
Over the past year, Aldama has clearly emerged as the best current asset from the past two drafts for the Grizzlies. His success has continued to stand out as he has scaled up in terms of his role through his first two years in the league. He balled out in the G league as a rookie and during the Summer League last summer, and was a significant contributor as a starter while Jaren Jackson Jr. was recovering from injury to start last season. Aldama’s consistent production as more was put on his plate to start last year allowed him to remain an important part of the Grizzlies rotation.
As a result, it is clear that Aldama has been a story of success for the Grizzlies over the past year. Two big reasons why are that he has filled many roles for the roster and has shown significant progression offensively. Furthermore, as was a strength of his coming out of college and into the NBA, Aldama has shown the ability to contribute in many different ways while on the court. He is going to contribute if he is in the game.
In other words, it is hard to deny that Aldama is one of the most improved players on the Grizzlies roster between now and this time last year. He is clearly a significant part of the Grizzlies future in Memphis. The key now for Aldama over the summer and into next year is to become more confident in sustaining his success. For instance, here are Aldama’s numbers (Per 36 minutes) as last season progressed:
Time as Starter While Jaren was Out: 12.6 PTS, 8.2 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.9 TOV, 1.2 STL, 1.5 BLK, 46.7% from the field, 33.3% from three, 62.5% from the line
Time as key Reserve during first half of season once JJJ returned: 17.1 PTS, 7.4 REB, 2.4 AST, 1.4 TOV, 1.1 STL, 1.0 BLK, 48.3% from the field, 38.8% from three, 77.2% from the line
Time as key Reserve during second half of season: 13.4 PTS, 8.6 REB, 2.3 AST, 1.5 TOV, 0.6 AST, 0.7 BLK, 45.1% from the field, 29.2% from three, 78% from the line
Time as key Reserve in NBA Playoffs: 13.9 PTS, 9.3 REB, 2.5 AST, 0.7 TOV, 0 BLK, 45.5% from field, 46.7% from three, 100% from the line
Overall, in whatever role Aldama was utilized, he remained fairly consistent in terms of his statistical production during his sophomore campaign. As the season went along, his numbers dipped a bit as he likely got fatigued and league began to adjust to him. However, even at times when he appeared to struggle, he would bounce right back with key plays to help the Grizzlies find success.
Shooting, Plus So Much More
One critical component of Aldama’s improvement was his overall shooting production, which is one of the most exciting examples of individual development on the Grizzlies roster over the past year. As a rookie, Aldama was 6-48 from three (12.5%). As a sophomore, Aladma was 94-266 (35.5%). Once Aldama’s playing time substantially increased, his frequency of shooting from distance went up slightly. However, his accuracy is what stands out.
Though Aldama’s production from three is average to above average compared to most bigs in today’s game, it is the addition of his shooting to his overall level of production across the board that makes him stand out. For instance, Aldama was one of just seven NBA reserves to produce 200+ boards, 50+ threes, 25+ steals, and 25+blocks with a 57.5% true shooting percentage or better last season. Other names on this list include Naz Reid, Chris Boucher, Grant Williams, and Nicholas Batum. In other words, many playoff teams had a clear need for a front court option off the bench that could provide production in many different ways. Aldama filled that role quite well for the Grizzlies.
Considering Aldama’s overall performance and improvement last year, it is really hard to find any glaring negative from his body of work. It is true that Aldama’s impact significantly declined in the playoffs, but that also had to do with the Grizzlies depth as a whole struggling mightily against the Lakers. Aldama did have his difficulties at times, and it remains to be seen rather he truly can be a top reserve and rotation piece in the postseason. However, at his age and with how he has progressed already, there is plenty of reason to be positive that Aldama can make a difference in future postseasons.
The biggest focus for the Grizzlies and Aldama during the offseason is sustaining the level of success he has established. He no longer will be a source of surprise production against other teams, as they will pay closer attention to where he is on the court. One area that Aldama could continue to improve in is his playmaking, as if a shot is not there for him to make, making the right pace to someone with a better shot is how Aldama can help the Grizzlies maintain consistency on offense.
Becoming a Big Part of the Grizzlies Future
The importance of Aldama building off his successful sophomore season and sustaining his success next year becomes even more critical when considering the health statuses of Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke. It likely is best to assume Clarke will not be back to his normal level of contribution until the 2024-2025 season, while Adams may take of bit of time getting back into playing form after missing the last third of the regular season and playoffs. As a result, Aldama currently is a key cog for the Grizzlies front court heading into next season. Regardless of what roster changes may occur during the summer, Aldama is almost guaranteed to have a significant spot in the rotation next year.
Of course, for the Grizzlies, the focus before next year is finding upgrades to the roster that will leave to more playoff success. And with some other assets on the roster not being as attractive in potential trades as they once were, Aldama has logically become one of the most attractive trade pieces for the Grizzlies in potential deals. However, in the case of Aldama, his inclusion in a trade package should only occur If a significant difference maker is coming to Memphis. The reason why is because, like Luke Kennard and Steven Adams, Aldama has clearly displayed a a skill set that gels quite well with the main core of Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson Jr.
Aldama’s fit with the Grizzlies trio may not seem as obvious as how Adams and Kennard fit, but though the sample sizes are limited, some encouraging results certainly exist. This is especially true of lineups that feature Jackson Jr. and Aldama. In these lineups, Taylor Jenkins and his staff truly can embrace having five shooters on the court, which can result in very good stretches of offense. The pairing of Jackson Jr. and Aldama was quite successful during the regular season, though it fell off a bit in the playoffs. However, once all of the main Grizzlies are available next season, a lineup of Morant, Bane, Kennard, Aldama, and Jackson Jr. could present a lot of matchup problems for Grizzlies opponents.
Overall, the Grizzlies have a very important and complex offseason ahead of them. Many questions must be answered in many different ways about players of all levels of importance across the roster. This makes sources of certainty of even greater value for the Grizzlies and that is Aldama. In the unlikely event Aldama is traded, it likely is for a return that significantly improves Memphis in the present and future. In the likely event Aldama is on the roster to start next year, he will then be a trusted source of versatility Jenkins and his staff can utilize in many different ways.
As the Grizzlies continue to find answers and attempt to improve their roster this offseason, it is all being done to move closer to being a title contender. Of course, a big part of that is current members of the roster sustaining success as they scale up. Santi Aldama has done exactly that over the last two years; as he becomes an even more important part of the Grizzlies rotation in time, the sustainability of his all-around production will be a significantly development for the Grizzlies roster to continue to evolve.
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