By Jesse Blanchard
Few things in basketball are as smooth and effortless as the high release on a LaMarcus Aldridge turnaround jumper. The delivery system through which he launches one of the NBA’s most reliable weapons, however, is anything but graceful.
Working against Joel Embiid late in the third quarter, Aldridge caught the ball out past the mid-block, facing up and driving left.
The San Antonio Spurs’ power forward has mobility but not quickness. Strength, but no explosion. Twice his movements are walled off by Embiid, stopped in his tracks.
As the baseline is denied, he takes one dribble retreat and goes right, searching for an angle. On his second move, Embiid steps in front of Aldridge’s inside shoulder, preventing the ball from getting middle. The contact at the end of Aldridge’s second foray, however, is enough to put Embiid back on his heels for a moment, digging in to hold his ground.
This position of strength isn’t necessarily an athletic one for Embiid. Transferring potential energy to kinetic takes a fraction of a second longer when moving from a standstill…especially when braced for contact. It’s enough to buy Aldridge time and space for that familiar turn over his right shoulder for two of his 24 points against the Philadelphia 76ers.
On back-to-back nights, LaMarcus Aldridge went to work against two of the young franchise big men who were supposed to have rendered players like him obsolete, dropping 29 points on Kristaps Porzingis in a win over the New York Knicks and leading a charge by a shorthanded Spurs team in a loss to the 76ers.
Unicorns, they call players like Porzingis and Embiid—mythical creatures who merge the familiar and fantastical…Imbuing three-pointers and dribble drives with a level of dexterity and grace bordering on surreal for human beings of that size; warping our understanding to such a degree it can only be explained as magical.
LaMarcus Aldridge is none of those things. His game is steeped in physics…literally grounded, both to the floor and reality.
His steps carry weight, which he uses to create leverage. He doesn’t seek to redefine angles, but rather uses his knowledge of them to create openings, comfortable in the fact that no matter how his opponents push at the laws of basketball, Newton’s laws of thermodynamics still bound them to the rules of a reality he can exploit.
Put enough weight on a player and you can neutralize their athleticism. Know the angles an opponent is trying to take to the rim and you can meet them there on your terms, as Aldridge did against Porzingis a night earlier.
“F— your unicorn 3-pointer pace and space stuff.”
-LaMarcus Aldridge all season, but also whilst blocking Porzingis just now.
— Jesse Blanchard (@blanchardJRB) January 3, 2018
Aldridge’s proclivity for midrange jumpers and post-ups, combined with aging legs, were supposed to have aged him out of relevance. Instead, he’s putting together one of his better seasons on both ends of the court, navigating the Spurs through injuries and rest.
LaMarcus Aldridge is the practical effect in a world of superhero CGI in the hands of one of the world’s greatest directors. In a world of unicorns, Aldridge is a workhorse.
Brooklyn Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves, Bully Ball Versus Analytics
By Brian Sampson
Bully ball versus analytics. Minnesota Timberwolves versus Brooklyn Nets. There might never be two teams so completely different than the ones which tipped-off at the Barclays Center on Wednesday night. With Brooklyn eeking out the 98-97 victory, it gave us good insight into how each of these teams are built.
Brooklyn ranks second in the NBA in three-point attempts per game at 34.1 and loves to bomb from the outside early and often. Multiple times throughout every game, they run a double-stagger screen within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock to get Allen Crabbe an open look at the top of the key.
Minnesota is the complete opposite, ranking 28th in the NBA with 23.0 three-point attempts per game. Tom Thibodeau and his team certainly prefer a more grind it out style that relies heavily on isolations and post-ups from a plethora of players including Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins. Because of this, they rank fourth in the NBA with 19.6 free throw attempts per game.
As the two teams battled throughout the night, it became evident Brooklyn’s modern style would win out. Despite Minnesota making a run late in the fourth quarter and even taking the lead with 33 seconds to play, it always felt as if the Nets had control of the game. Most of this was due to their great three-point shooting throughout the night, as they finished 14-for-30 from beyond the arc.
In bizarro Nets’ world, the Timberwolves only made 1 of their 11 attempts from the outside, neutralizing any advantage they gained by taking nearly triple the number of free throws (30-11). Unsurprisingly, four Brooklyn players (Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Allen Crabbe and even Quincy Acy) made more downtown bombs than the entire Timberwolves team combined.
As the season progresses, there’s no mistaking each of these teams’ identity. Despite Brooklyn only connecting on 35.1 percent of their outside shots (28th), they’ll continue to unconsciously shoot from the outside. Despite the rest of the league taking more outside shots than ever before, they Timberwolves will continue to pound the rock inside. When that doesn’t work, they’ll take it out a bit further to the 15 footers and live or die by the mid-range J’s that are slowly disappearing from today’s game.
This round of Old School versus New School went to the Nets, but expect the Timberwolves to have the last laugh by getting into the playoffs.