Steve Nash didn’t waste any time throwing LaMarcus Aldridge right into the starting lineup. And in Thursday’s debut, Aldridge showed why, flashing a different game than any other Nets center and a more complete skill-set than all of them.
Aldridge had 11 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block. His plus-22 rating was his best since Dec. 28, 2019, but his basketball IQ and array of post moves implies his best may still be to come, especially once Kevin Durant and James Harden return.
“That’s the ideal. It’s just trying to find my spots to help these guys be better, try to open up the floor for Kyrie [Irving], James, KD, and when teams switch, just go down low,” Aldridge said. “[Thursday] was perfect. We had a good balance of inside/outside. Teams doubled me, so I was just trying to find the open guy.
“When they talked to me, it was about trying to fill the void of when teams [switch] 1-to-5; having a guy that could post up, but also having a guy that can be at the 3-[point] line and still make them pay. They don’t mind me posting up, but I also have to be at the 3. So it’s definitely ideal for me.”
While past attempts to mold Aldridge, 35, into more of a shooter haven’t entirely worked, the Nets want him to just be himself: Space the floor for the Big 3, hit his beloved midrange jumpers, and when they get bogged down in the half-court, go down low and go to work.
“What’s always impressed me about LA is just his poise and being able to be a big body and have that IQ where you have a big where you can throw it down to slow the game down and able to make good decisions,” Irving said. “He’s always been a threat down there in the post. I think he’s missed posting up.
“So when we’re throwing it down to him and teams are switching, it gives us great opportunities to swing the ball, but also go through LA which slows the game down tremendously. We’re able to pick apart the defense like that as well instead of just coming off pick-and-roll and just getting downhill.”
Aldridge won’t miss post-ups here.
“He adds a different dynamic, being a post threat that we can throw the ball down to,” Jeff Green said. “With the offense we have, it’s going to be tough for teams to figure out whether they’re going to double because of the shooters we have.”
Green is a stretch-four, DeAndre Jordan — a fellow Excel Sports client supplanted by Aldridge — is a lob threat, Nic Claxton is a switchable defender and Blake Griffin is a small-ball five. But none has Aldridge’s ability to punish mismatches by going inside-out. He found Green for a 3 and Bruce Brown for floaters.
“We targeted him on switches. Then they were switching on everything, so we rolled him in the post and threw it in to him,” Nash said. “He was able to score, but more importantly, he was able to draw two defenders and kick it out. Some assists were for swing-swing and open 3s, so that was effective.
“He’s an intelligent player, so regardless of whether he’s in the post or he’s just playing basketball, he knows our team wants to play like that. We want to play with pace and intelligence and read and react and to not be predictable.”
What’s predictable is that all the GMs whining anonymously over the Nets landing Aldridge in the buyout market will be apoplectic.
As impressive as Aldridge’s offense was, his size and positional awareness helping the defense. No, he could never switch like Claxton, but his 86 defensive rating topped the Nets regulars and tied his best since March 19, 2018.
“He’s a very intelligent defender. He understands space and concepts,” Nash said. “Regardless of the situation, he understands what’s in front of him, understands what he’s looking at. He’s able to read defensively very well. He was great.”