January 18, 2018

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.

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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.

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.

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Jesse Blanchard

Jesse Blanchard is the author of Dynasty: the San Antonio Spurs Timeless 2013-2014 Championship, author/illustrator of the unpublished #LetBonnerShoot, A Dr. Seuss Story, and former contributor for 48 Minutes of Hell, Project Spurs, and ESPNsa.com. Boris Diaw is his pickup game spirit animal.

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