In the latest edition of 'P.I. Pulse,' Pro Insight's Aneesh Namburi conducts a deep dive analysis on Loyola (MD) NBA draft prospect Santi Aldama:
Santi Aldama is a fringe draft candidate who’s shown promise in past FIBA tournaments and in NCAA competition this season. He is a highly-skilled offensive big who can put the ball on the deck, move the ball, and provide shooting versatility, but there are questions about Aldama’s build (4/5 tweener who lacks strength and pop, plus has trouble changing direction) and how his game translates to better competition in a smaller role. Below is an in-depth scouting report that covers every aspect of his game and how it translates to the NBA, where his strengths lie in addition to potential areas of improvement.
Date of Birth 1/10/2001
Weight 224 lbs.
Missed first three months of freshman year (knee procedure)
High: Second unit spacing big. High-level shooting big man w/ size, volume, and versatility. Smart off-ball re-locator to keep offense humming, improves burst to consistently attack off the dribble (too quick for bigs, too strong for wings). Not a vertical threat. Good passer who utilizes reactive manipulation and can work out of the short roll. Solid team defender, consistent back side rim protection due to physical improvements. Too small and limited athletically to play the 5, but straight line/lateral fluidity improves and can switch against primarily off-ball wings.
Median: Fringe rotation big. Plus-shooter w/ versatility. Smart off-ball re-locator to keep offense humming. PnR spacer who can occasionally attack mismatches w/ closeouts. Able to hit shooters off the dribble and able to utilize a bit of reactive manipulation. Below-average defender but passable at some points due to offensive skills + low minute load. Solid team defender, forte is back side rim protection. Too small and limited athletically to play the 5, but improves hip flexibility enough to move w/ smaller 4’s, but will need help against wing types.
Low: Depth big. Can open up unit offense w/ shooting versatility. Smart off-ball re-locator to keep offense humming, but lacks athletic pop to generate space and attack off the dribble. PnR spacing big. More of a ball mover due to minimal advantage creation. Unable to get rotation minutes due to defense. Passable team defender, occasional back side rim protection. Too small and limited athletically to play the 5, straight line/lateral fluidity doesn’t translate to on-ball D due to poor hip flexibility.
Aldama is quite a fluid athlete, but does not possess NBA-level explosion. Already a 4/5 tweener, his lack of length and strength and overall pop most likely prevents him from commanding the 5 spot substantively, as his timing will probably not be enough to mitigate NBA athletes. Aldama runs fluidly and moves well laterally, but struggles mightily when he needs to change direction, largely due to his upright stance and high hips. While at first appearance Aldama appears to have enough strength to hold his own, the lack of utilization in the Patriot League gives concern about its translation to the NBA. Aldama will not only need to broaden his shoulders and add significantly to his core, but also re-adjust his mentality to a more contact-driven approach, especially when finishing in the half court.
Lacking vertical pop but excellent timing and instincts mitigate this negative to some extent
Rarely accelerates/decelerates, fluid moving north-south
Possesses little burst, specifically from a standstill
Combination of these factors make playing the 5 mostly untenable
High and tight hips, seems to have trouble sitting in a stance and changing directions
Straight line lateral movement is passable
Lower body is built solid, upper body needs a little work; biggest issue w/ strength is that he rarely uses it (shies away from contact on finishes + offensive players attack and move him when protecting the rim)
Most of Aldama’s intrigue comes on the offensive side of the ball, where he has shown the ability to project as a potential second unit offensive hub. Maintaining a positive offensive value is imperative to his staying power in the NBA, as it is unlikely he ever becomes a good enough defender to warrant minutes due to limitations on that side of the court. Aldama’s standout skill is his shooting proficiency while showing flashes of versatility through usage in a variety of actions (catch-and-shoot, movement, re-location, pick-and-pop, etc.). His standstill shooting alone at his size is extremely valuable, but his potential to fire off movement and attack closeouts due to his fluidity would make Aldama a tough game plan for most opposing bigs. He also possesses positive instincts as a playmaker. While not a proactive passer, his reactive playmaking is near the top of bigs in this draft class. He can spray to shooters all over the court, specifically out of PnR popping situations, and can hit shooters and cutters alike out of the post. The swing skill for Aldama will be his efficiency as a PnR big, specifically developing some level of finishing gravity (which should also open up his short roll ability). While Aldama showed flashes with the ball in his hands with Loyola, it is tough to see those traits scaling up to NBA competition due to the difference in athleticism among defenders and his lack of shake and overall handle.
Half court: 53.8% of 2’s assisted, 46.2% of 3’s assisted
92/146 within restricted area this season
Really good touch; has shown ability to pull off high-level finishes, especially with adjustment
Biggest struggle is lack of physicality around the hoop (and the reason he’s closer to average right now); often using off-hand which takes the rest of the body out of the finish
Needs to get comfortable using frame to initiate/accept contact
Significantly better finishing going right vs. left (31/57 vs. 10/31)
1.120 PPP on 100 jump shots in HC (55.0% eFG)
Not fully developed as a shooter, but very well-rounded and versatile in terms of shot profile
Shot likely to project from NBA range
Extremely high release point, will be tough to block; quick trigger, willing to fire on tight closeout
Effective attacking closeouts, uses size + fluidity
Achieves separation due to mobility advantage over opposing bigs; real scenario that he struggles doing so against NBA wings
Rarely creating for himself, more reliant on footwork
Very little tape piecing together dribble moves; tough to see utility due to high center of gravity and limited flexibility; not much change of pace in his game as a whole, much less while dribbling
On-Ball (Pick-and-Roll, Isolation, Post-Up)
0.789 PPP on 38 PnR BH possessions, 48.1% eFG (only 6 possessions as roll man); Don’t think he will run ball screens effectively in the NBA due to lack of burst + improved athletes on D , but I do see fluidity w/ the ball projecting to DHO usage
While possessing the touch and playmaking to be a short roll candidate, limited length + vertical pop negates these strengths against higher level athletes (0.750 PPP on 16 runners, 37.5% eFG)
Just 6 possessions as a roller w/ Loyola (and FIBA) due to playing heavy portion of mins w/ roll big; clearly a better spacing candidate due to lack of physicality + pop as a finisher
Highly doubt SSS iso effectiveness translates in a real way to the NBA (1.143 PPP on 14 possessions, 50.0% eFG)
0.977 PPP on 44 post-up possessions (53.6%); trust him to take advantage of switches onto PG’s but most wings likely have the athleticism to handle him until help comes
Off-Ball (Catch-and l-Shoot, Transition, Movement Shooting, Cutting)
1.189 PPP on 74 C&S possessions in HC (58.1% eFG)
1.058 PPP on 86 spot-up possessions (59.2% eFG)
Especially as a 4 could be a good transition rim runner due to lack of rebounding responsibilities + fluidity as a straight line mover; 0.857 PPP on 42 transition possessions (53.3% eFG)
More than the numbers, was used in a variety of off-ball shooting settings; combined w/ natural touch + high release it seems probable that he becomes at least an average movement shooter; 1.267 PPP on 15 Off-Screen Possessions (60.0% eFG); 0.720 PPP on 25 Hand-Off Possessions (34.2% eFG)
1.263 PPP on 38 possessions as a cutter (67.7% eFG)
High-level playmaking flashes for a big man; not only a ball mover but an excellent exterior reactive passer
Doesn’t manipulate the D much yet, but able to take advantage of creases, miscues
Has shown flashes hitting shooters while attacking downhill
Scans the floor really well when above the break; has an eye to hit corner shooters
Most low percentage shots due to team relying on his offensive production to keep them humming; excellent decision making to pick and choose spots in FIBA
With Spain’s U18 team and Loyola, Aldama has been mainly used as an off-ball defender, guarding primarily stationary shooters in order to limit his usage in on-ball actions and allow him to focus on team D. Not only did the teams utilize his overall strengths and weaknesses well, but this also does a great job summarizing his defensive game. Aldama, most likely projected to be an NBA back-up in his high outcomes, will be on the floor due to his offensive proficiency. Most bigs that aren’t special offensively must be able to 1) protect the rim or 2) move across the court. Due to his even/negative wingspan and limited pop, I’m fairly certain the first mark will never be the case consistently. While Aldama is a fluid player, his lack of flexibility brings his overall defensive mobility into question. Thankfully for him, Aldama is an intelligent off-ball and team defender, and we’ve seen bigs (most notably Myles Turner, even though it was at an outlier level) improve their hips once they get to the NBA.
On-Ball (Isolation, Pick-and-Roll, Post Defense)
Even with increased flexibility, would not want him on an island in late clock/game situations
If he will play in the PnR, will have to quickly hedge or blitz (utilizes his lateral agility but takes away necessity for change of direction); might be able to briefly switch against lower level creators with physical improvements
Ideally would play drop, but lacks the physical tools to be effective in that arena
Won’t be defending post-ups unless playing as a center (not recommended)
Off-Ball and Team Defense
Understands positioning, when to help/stunt/dig etc; size alone provides a higher floor
Physical tools are definitely there to be help and recover quickly (and be semi-impactful)
Fluid chasing players on off-ball screens; issues present themselves when matchups put ball on the deck (does not currently possess the wiggle to flip hips and get in a stance and move)
Plus-steal and block rate despite lack of traditional associated physical tools; likely remains an opportunistic playmaker but numbers drop significantly vs. NBA competition
Other (Rim Protection, Rebounding, Switchability)
Tough for him to scale as a primary rim protector due to lack of vertical pop + length; timing and lateral fluidity could portend into a positive help side defender (guarding the corner and sliding across the baseline for weakside rim protection)
Healthy rebound rate for a center; could provide real value from the 4 spot with size advantage
Currently does not have a clear position to defend outside of opposing spacing bigs due to stiffness changing directions; if he increases hip mobility could be a JaMychal Green-type defender where he guards 4’s or smaller 5’s and can switch briefly + play at the level of screen
Aldama is not my typical kind of prospect, but offers offensive skills that NBA front offices are often tantalized by. As a big that will never be a high impact defender, Aldama needs to be a fairly productive offensive player to warrant a rotation spot. This will include turning his versatile shooting potential into production and gain enough burst to attack closeouts and utilize his playmaking. Defensively, Aldama seems to process the game well, but it’s tough to project this translation to such a big jump with his limited athletic tools. Projecting as a primarily off-ball defender, he’ll need to work on improving his hip flexibility to move around the court with wings and smaller bigs, his most-likely minutes. Fortunately for him, his pure size and natural fluidity should offer somewhat of a deterrent. Disregarding outlier improvement, Aldama will need to be hidden if guarding people within ball screen actions.
Data has shown us that slightly over 20 players “stick” in each draft class, with that number likely to rise a touch due to the addition of 2-way deals and more of an emphasis on utilizing the G-League. While it’s unlikely Aldama falls into that range from a personal standpoint, there is something to be said for bigs with offensive versatility and potentially increased mobility and flexibility once he starts working with an NBA strength and conditioning program. Teams seem to consistently value offensive-minded bigs at lower levels and are willing to work to bring up defense to a passable level. Add in his ability to also potentially go overseas (can play in Spain and not take up an “American” roster spot) and be a stash candidate, it would not be surprising at all to hear Aldama’s name called in the second round. My strategy would be to give a 2-way either late in the draft or as an UDFA, giving him time with a team’s strength and conditioning program while being able to increase in competition somewhat incrementally. From a contending team’s perspective without too many holes to fill, it seems like a worthwhile gamble on a pick that rarely brings any (major) expectations.