What can the Thunder do about guarding LaMarcus Aldridge?

LaMarcus Aldridge found plenty of space against the Thunder in Game 1, leading to a career night in the Spurs' commanding opening win in the Western Conference semifinals. Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images

While the Oklahoma City Thunder-San Antonio Spurs series is tied 1-1, LaMarcus Aldridge has been nearly unstoppable for the Spurs in the first two games. Aldridge scored a combined 79 points in Games 1 and 2, the second-most ever by a Spurs player in the first two games of a series, trailing only Hall of Famer George Gervin in the 1978 conference semifinals against the Bullets (81 points). Aldridge is shooting 75 percent from the field and has made all 11 free throws.

Aldridge’s post-up game in particular is causing Oklahoma City problems in the Western Conference semifinals, but there might not be an easy way to stop him:

Option 1 – Play Aldridge one-on-one in the post

This is essentially what the Thunder have been doing. This strategy can lead to big games from Aldridge, but it also allows the Thunder to cover the Spurs’ shooters.

The danger here is that Aldridge has scored at will on these plays, and the Spurs are getting him the ball more and more in the post.

Aldridge posted up a total of 25 times in Games 1 and 2 and averaged 1.32 points per direct post. (A direct post is defined as whenever a player posts up, whether or not he receives a pass in the post.) To put that in perspective, the most efficient post-up players in the NBA this regular season averaged 1.06 points/direct post, and they were both Spurs (Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw). Aldridge averaged 1.00 points per direct post.

Despite Aldridge’s success on these plays, the Thunder have sent a double-team his way just once in those situations. Aldridge kicked the ball out and the Thunder were able to deflect a pass out of bounds to reset the possession.

So why not go this route more often?

Option 2 –- Double Aldridge in the post

Doubling Aldridge in the post this season has led to decreased efficiency for him on those plays. When doubled, he scores less efficiently and he’s seven times more likely to pass.

As mentioned, the Thunder tried this only once in Games 1 and 2, leading to a kickout and a deflection. This sounds like the way to go when the Spurs get the ball into the post, but there is a danger. To double one player, you leave another open, and the Spurs have the shooters to make a team pay for leaving them open.

How good are the Spurs shooters? Well, they’ve been some of the best this postseason.

QSI (quality shot index) measures how much better than average a team is at shooting compared to other teams in similar situations. The Spurs are 5.1 percentage points better than average this postseason, only slightly behind the Cavaliers, who rank first on the strength of two games in which they made 20 3-pointers.

There are 19 players with a plus-10 QSI this postseason, and the Spurs boast five of them (Aldridge, Danny Green, Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Kevin Martin).