Grizzlies

Aldama Ready for Bigger Role in Memphis

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Because he was drafted 30th overall by Memphis in the 2021 draft, a funny thing happened to Santi Aldama. Something that had nothing whatsoever to do with the young man himself, but more to do with the 30th pick itself.  

Because of the draft the year prior, the expectations of the 30th pick in Memphis—fair or not—would shift the type of impact fans expected Aldama to have on the team.  

On draft night of 2020, after trading up into the first round, the Memphis Grizzlies drafted Desmond Bane with the 30th overall pick. 

Desmond Bane—ever heard of him? Cornerstone piece of the future? Finished top five in the Most Improved Player voting last year? Ringing any bells? 

Like it or not, when the boys in Beale Street Blue acquired the draft rights to Aldama with similar moves the next year, the overall sentiment became that Aldama must be a diamond in the rough, despite his lack of notoriety.

After all, they drafted him in the same spot as Desmond Bane

And despite his unimpressive rookie year and collegiate success against only lackluster opponents, the original sentiment was correct: Memphis drafted Aldama to contribute on the level of Desmond Bane. 

That may sound absurd, but the Spaniard’s development is only trending upwards. When examining the unique possibilities already presented by the upcoming season, Santi contributing on the level of Desmond Bane may not be as much of a pipe dream as some may think.

The Player Scouted

At this point it would be foolish to doubt the Grizzlies and their draft process.

They have proven that they are keen evaluators of talent, while also having a track record of going out of their way to snag the exact players they are after.

With Aldama the potential is clearly there, and it’s easy to begin salivating over the player that he could be.

Although some might consider the competition in the Patriot League to be lacking, his career at Loyola Maryland was nevertheless impressive. He averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds per game while shooting 49.5% from the field and 36.8% from three. He even helped lead the Greyhounds to their first ever conference championship his sophomore season. 

Where the competition has never been called lacking, however, is the FIBA European Championships.

And it was during the 2019 FIBA U18 European Championship where Aldama brought home the MVP trophy. His per game averages for the tournament were 18 points and 7.6 rebounds per game on 45.7% shooting from the field and 34.8% shooting from three. He even threw in 1.9 steals for good measure.

As a reminder—he was doing this before he was 18 years old.

Unpack these numbers a bit more, and it’s easy  to see that they represent a truly desirable playerone that’s not just capable of contributing immediately when called upon, but also one the Memphis Grizzlies are going to very soon be very grateful they drafted.

The Player Drafted

A big reason for Bane’s success was the clearing out of Grayson Allen. When Memphis traded Allen to Milwaukee it opened up a lot of minutes, and without those minutes, Bane would never have been able to make the leap he did last season.

This minutes problem happened to Santi a bit last season. The problem for Santi was that the Grizzlies didn’t really have much of a problem at all. 

They were just…too good. 

The minutes just weren’t there for Santi last year. In the 32 games he appeared in, he had 4.1 points and 2.7 rebounds on 40.2% shooting from the field and 12.5% from three. 

Nothing to write home about, to be sure.

For the sake of argument, though, let’s look at the three games in which Aldama played more than 25 minutes. In these three games (two of which were against the Celtics and the Suns) his averages were 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals on 50% shooting and 25% shooting from three.

It’s also worth looking into his numbers in the games that he played with Memphis’s G-League affiliate, the Memphis Hustle. He averaged 29.8 minutes in those 16 games, and he averaged 22.6 points and 9.1 rebounds while shooting 49.8% from the field and 27.3% from three.

Combine those numbers, and it becomes a lot easier to see a the potential in Santi Aldama.

One that could fit into this roster long term.

The Player Projected

Fast forward to the summer of 2022 and one of the most wonderful times of the year, the NBA Summer League. It would be there where we would be treated to the first complete serving of what Santi could bring to the table. 

Based on what we saw, I dare say I would like to go back for seconds. 

Aldama absolutely balled out over summer. In his six appearances with the Grizz (including both Vegas and Salt Lake City) he posted 15.7 points and 7.0 rebounds on 57.4% shooting from the field and 40% shooting from three.

The cherry on top would be his performance against the Boston Celtics where he poured in 31 points on 12 of 14 shooting, nine rebounds, and three blocks. Combine this with the consistency shown in his other games, and it’s very clear why he was awarded All-Summer League Second Team honors

A second year Grizz Nxt Gen player who shows out at Summer League before making a leap the following season…Sound familiar?

Now, there is no Grayson Allen vacancy to clear room for Aldama. But because of the untimely injury to Jaren Jackson Jr., there are going to be some minutes available at the beginning of the season.

Let’s assume that on October 19th, Memphis trots out the starting lineup of Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, Dillon Brooks and Steven AdamsWhy not put Aldama in that bench lineup while JJJ is out?

And when Jaren is back? A bench consisting of Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke, Williams, and Santi combined with John Konchar or one of the rookies is one heck of a second unit, and one that opposing teams would not be excited to face.

With all the talk of Ziaire making the leap this season, all signs point to Santi to join him in that leap. Why can’t Memphis have both?

The Player Paradox

Santi Aldama can be the next Desmond Bane. 

At first glance nothing may appear more absurd or foolhardy than that statement. Upon closer examination, though, it becomes increasingly easier to relate the two players than one might initially think. 

Both drafted with the 30th overall pick. Both coveted by Memphis and traded up to obtain. Both took home Summer League hardware before their second season.

Both blessed to be in Beale Street Blue.

Desmond Bane took advantage of the opportunities granted to him. 

The proverbial ball is in Santi Aldama’s court, and Memphis waits to see if he will do the same.

CRAVING MORE GRIZZLIES?

Check out last week’s Deep Dive Piece on Xavier Tillman by Jesse Elsea (@jesselsea), Can Tillman Be Memphis’ Next Successful Spartan?. And be sure to check out the Grizz 901 Podcast, where the Grizz Lead guys get on to discuss these Deep Dive players and much, much more!

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