Santi Aldama he chose his own path. He went to college basketball and played two years (2019-2021) at Loyola-Maryland, where was won being the first round of the draft (number 30 in 2021). With the Grizzlies he grows little by little but with a firm step, with an increasingly defined role and in a team that believes in its virtues. In fact, he has just signed his best game in the NBA: 22 points and 14 rebounds (both data the best of his career) in the win against the Dallas Mavericks (112-108) that returned the Tennessee franchise to second place in the Western Conference (44 wins, 27 losses).
At 21 years old, the power forward averages almost 10 points and 5 rebounds in 22 minutes a nighttwice its year rookies. It’s getting better, and after last summer, in which he chose to give priority to preparing for his second NBA season, Everything indicates that in 2023 he will be with the Spanish National Team, who will defend her world champion crown.
Each year he has taken firm steps: reaching the NBA, establishing himself as rookiesgrow in its second season… What do you think should be next?
Continue in this line. Probably improve some aspects of my game. Surely, improve in defense, try to block more shots, rebound a little more… And in attack be able to penetrate and distribute a little more. But in the end you have to go little by little. This year it’s all about helping the team win. Especially behind, in defense. And in attack, make the right decisions. In summer I will work more to be able to contribute even more.
A summer that seems that, this time, it will include being in the concentration of the Spanish National Team and playing in the World Cup.
Yes, that is a dream that I have and that I hope will come true this summer.
was not in the eurobasketball to prepare this season in the NBA. How did you experience it from a distance?
I lived it with great enthusiasm, as always. Looking forward to seeing Spain compete. It is true that this time it was a different team from other times, but the identity was the same. We played hard, we played the basketball that we like to play, and I think that in the end it showed and that is the reason why we won. I was very happy, I ended up jumping for joy when we won the final.
was not in the Rising Stars of the All Star, the game of freshmen and sophomores that many believe he should have been in. Did you get angry?
Well, I’m not angry, but I would have been excited, that’s for sure. In the end, that is a popular vote and that is what it touched. I have time to focus on the team, rest a bit and prepare for the end of the season, which is hard.
Memphis Grizzlies is one of the youngest, most attractive and most competitive franchises in the current NBA. What is special about this team?
I think culture. That’s something we talk about a lot, but if you see it from the inside, it’s much more appreciated. I think that all the people in the team, not just the players, are on the same page. It’s very easy to work, day-to-day is very easy, and that ends up being noticeable both on the track and off. I think that what we call our game, which in the end is running, passing the ball and having fun, shows.
And people have fun watching them…
In the end, when you see us play, people have fun because we have fun. We are young, we want to play, we come from that time when the ones you play with are your friends and we continue to have that philosophy.
You are in a franchise in which both Pau and Marc Gasol were already very important. Do you hear much about them because you are also Spanish?
It is very noticeable. Every person I see mentions Pau and Marc… they have been in most of the history of this franchise, especially in this part in Memphis. And both the fans, the people who were already in the franchise, workers in the pavilion… they all tell me that they have very good memories of them.
Which player do you focus on the most to continue progressing?
Since I was little I paid close attention to Pau and Dirk Nowitzki, they were the players I liked the most. Although when I was little I played more as a point guard and forward, but I liked playing like them. Now I just look for players that I can get a little closer to my game. I pay close attention to Giannis Antetokounmpo, although we are very different, but in transition he is very good and I like to see what he does and the advantages he generates due to physicality, although obviously there are no more players like him. But I really like to analyze how he gets those advantages being so tall, how he does it.
And who would you say is the toughest rival you have faced, the one you found the most difficult to overcome?
There are many, and Giannis himself is certainly among them. You can’t defend him one on one, it has to be a collective effort. But I would say that by far the most difficult player to defend, and the one who has impressed me the most, is Stephen Curry. He is a guy who is constantly on the go. If you relax for a second when he releases the ball, he runs out and finds an open 3-pointer. He is also very capable of finishing plays on the inside even though he is less tall… and he also has a great team around him that helps him a lot. If it happens, they have Poole, Klay Thompson… who are capable of hitting a lot of triples. I’d say he’s the hardest to defend in the NBA, hands down.
You decided to go to the United States in 2019 to play college with Loyola-Maryland University. Do you think that following that route helped you adapt better when it was time to make the leap to the NBA?
Yes it helped. In the end it is a decision that I made to continue playing at a good level and studying at the same time, but yes, it helped me a lot. The change to the NBA is big in itself, wherever you come from. Also if you are American it is. But being there for two years before making the leap to the NBA did help me adapt, because you know the culture, even if you change cities you already know what to expect, how life works here, which is very different from Spain. So the two years at Loyola did help me, also in my development as a player and as a person.
Do you like living in Memphis, are you comfortable there?
I do like it. It’s a small city, one of the smallest with NBA teams, but I like it a lot. There isn’t much traffic, you can move around well, the weather is a bit like Madrid, although more humid… that’s fine. You can go to restaurants, take a walk along the Mississippi, in the summer we play a little golf… there are things to do.
How did you see the debate that took place last summer about the game in Europe and in the NBA, the so different styles, the difficulties to score in one or the other…?
I think that, in the end, it is a question of numbers. In NBA games, many more points are scored, but it is that they last eight more minutes and there are many more possessions due to the pace of the game. There are many more short possessions. In the ACB or the Euroleague, the ball moves much more to find the best possible shot. Here in the NBA, if you’re open after four seconds and you have a three-pointer, you have to throw it. Because in the end, even if you keep moving the ball, you still can’t find a better shot.
Stars like Doncic returned from the Eurobasket saying that it is easier to score in the NBA.
The field is bigger, there are more spaces, and players like Luka Doncic notice that, they have a lot of the ball and are so good at exploiting those spaces… It’s much more difficult, here you can’t defend in the zone like in Europe, what can you put on it? an area and have less the ball. But here he has the ball in hand and he is very good at finding the positions he wants to be in, and if he doesn’t shoot he finds the teammate who is alone. He has a lot of facility to play his game.