After a difficult year with the San Antonio Spurs last season, LaMarcus Aldridge is feeling like a completely different player so far this year.
The big man had a disappointing 2016/17 campaign by his standards and saw his numbers take a dip.
This led to his string of five straight All-Star appearances coming to an end and when the year concluded, Aldridge was unsure of whether he would still be with the team when he returned for the start of the next one.
There were rumours that the Spurs were looking to trade him but instead of waiting around to find out what his future with the team was, the veteran decided to call head coach Gregg Popovich and request a sit-down meeting over the summer.
In an interview with ESPN, Aldridge revealed how he told Popovich about his unhappiness throughout last season and the pair hashed things out and gave each other assurances about making changes moving forwards.
Pop took responsibility for trying to change the big man, saying “98.75 percent [was] on me”.
Prior to the opening game of the new season, the 32-year-old and San Antonio showed their commitment to one another as he put pen to paper on a three-year $72.3 million extension.
All of this has led to the former Portland Trail Blazers star making a positive start to the campaign and leading the team in the absence of Kawhi Leonard.
Over the first seven games, he's averaging a career-high 23.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. The five-time All-Star credits Popovich for his improved form.
“I didn’t know [what would happen after last season],” Aldridge told Yahoo Sports. “After that talk, and how well Pop took it, I thought things would get better. And they have.
"He’s very smart. I told him how I felt, I knew he would listen, and he did. He’s the guru. He figured out how to make some tweaks and it has been great so far.”
He is the focal point of the offence in Leonard's absence, and just like Pop promised him, he's getting more touches in the post where he likes and he's delivered well thus far.
“I feel like they are putting me in different positions, that they are looking for me more,” Aldridge said. “So I feel a little more into it. My confidence is there.”
Pau Gasol shared the frontcourt with Aldridge last season and at times, he felt the uncertainty in his teammates game but he doesn't anymore.
“LaMarcus has been outstanding,” Gasol told Yahoo Sports. “He has a great mindset. He’s been dominating almost every single game. He’s been very aggressive.
"From the first day of training camp he looked very sharp, in rhythm. He came in ready to dominate and take a step forward. It’s been really impressive.”