Last year was a whirlwind for Santi Aldama, starting right from the jump after the 2021 NBA Draft. Aldama was late joining the team for summer league after traveling from Spain and waiting for the trade where the Utah Jazz traded his rights to the Memphis Grizzlies to process. An inconsistent role to start the 2021-2022 season didn’t help his situation as he was called up and down from the Memphis Hustle early in the season, as the Grizzlies dealt with injuries and players in the COVID-19 Health & Safety Protocols. Aldama was thrust into the rotation at times due to these situations and showed flashes of the player he can be but was ultimately inconsistent.
Once the Grizzlies got healthy towards the end of the season, Aldama embraced a Hustle assignment and even asked to stick with the Grizzlies G League affiliate as they went on a long, West coast road trip. Aldama shined while spending the month of March with the Hustle as he averaged 22.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks across 12 games with the Hustle. The experience helped him build his confidence that had been lacking throughout most of his rookie season.
Aldama has built upon that experience with what he says was “a really good summer”. His confidence is likely at an all-time high right now, especially since multiple players and coaches mentioned him specifically as someone who is going to surprise people with his play this season. With Jaren Jackson Jr. out to start the year with a foot injury, and Kyle Anderson leaving the Grizzlies in free agency, the opportunity is there for the taking for Aldama to have a consistent role this upcoming season.
So far, Aldama isn’t backing down from the challenge. He recently told Drew Hill of The Daily Memphian that he wants to start and play a lot of minutes. He wants to help the team win. He wants that open spot. With his play so far this preseason, he clearly means what he says. Aldama has looked good in two different roles in the Grizzlies early preseason slate. Against the Bucks with a majority of the “core Grizzlies” sitting out, Aldama was aggressive scoring 13 points on 6-13 shooting while also chipping in 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. Aldama was a team high +17 in 29 minutes and shot an effective 6-13 from the field. Aldama’s role changed slightly during Monday’s “test run” against the Magic but it didn’t slow him down. Starting at the 4 and playing alongside the other Grizzlies locked in starters, Aldama scored 21 points and 6 rebounds on an efficient 7-9 shooting night. It wasn’t just the numbers that stood out, either, with Aldama and the starters. The eye test showed how Aldama’s style of play can work alongside the other starters.
With two open rotation spots in the frontcourt, it certainly feels as if Aldama has locked in one of those with his stellar play so far. This leaves Jake LaRavia, David Roddy and Xavier Tillman battling for the other frontcourt spot until Jaren Jackson Jr. returns from injury. If Monday night is any sign, it looks like it will be a battle of the rookies in LaRavia and Roddy to replace Kyle Anderson's spot in the rotation.
While Aldama seems poised to take advantage of the opportunity due to JJJ’s injury, Jaren will return at some point and reclaim his spot as the Grizzlies starting 4 and anchor of the defense. While it feels safe to assume Aldama would slide to the bench as the backup 4 (or 5) once Jaren returns, it’s no guarantee he holds onto that spot. Whoever wins the battle between LaRavia and Roddy will have more chemistry with the bench unit and seem poised to be able to step in should Aldama struggle once his role shifts.
Fortunately for Aldama, he is already self aware with his areas of improvement. At Media Day, Aldama mentioned he wanted to be a bigger presence defensively and be more consistent with his shot this season. He has consistently racked up stocks (steals+blocks) but has been bullied by bigger opponents on the block. Aldama proving he can be more of rim protector and one-on-one defender instead of just excelling at help defense and jumping passing lanes will go a long ways in retaining a role.
The biggest growth opportunity for Aldama will be his 3-point shooting. He shot a poor 6-48 (12.5%) from beyond the arc last season in his inconsistent/garbage time minutes. Aldama has proven he can get hot from beyond the arc, even shooting 4-5 from beyond the arc on Monday, but hasn’t shot the ball from deep consistently. While replacing Kyle Anderson’s 3-point production shouldn’t be too difficult, matching the 3-point capabilities of Jake LaRavia or David Roddy is something that could be problematic for Aldama later on this season.
While questions regarding Aldama’s role may come up again once Jaren Jackson Jr. returns, he is poised to be an impact player once the season starts on October 19th against the New York Knicks. After spending last season a little overwhelmed with the inconsistencies surrounding his rookie season, Aldama looks locked in and ready to contribute for the Grizzlies in their quest for a championship this season.