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FILM STUDY: Evaluating LaMarcus Aldridge’s Brooklyn Nets debut

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Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

On March 28th, the Brooklyn Nets officially announced that they had signed seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. The roster move had already been reported on Twitter the day by your favorite NBA reporters.

It was surprise and an uproar emerged among the talking heads. The Nets had already brought in six-time All-Star Blake Griffin and NBA Twitter decided that this was just too much talent for one team.

Personally, I was underwhelmed by the move and didn’t understand the outrage. Frankly, Aldridge had looked washed this year in San Antonio, and I doubted whether his lack of lateral quickness would allow him to make an impact in the playoffs. One game in, and, well, that take hasn’t exactly aged well.

Aldridge made his Nets debut Thursday, donning a new number: 21. (He apparently never even asked Joe Harris for his iconic number 12) In a 111-89 rout of the Hornets, LMA posted a modest stat line of 11 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Let’s examine some of the plays he made, and what that means for the Nets going forward.

Taking advantage in the post

Aldridge’s signature weapon is the turnaround mid-range shot, and that’s no different now that he’s a Net. He’s shooting 52.1 percent on all mid range shots this year, which is fourth in the league for all qualifying players behind only Kyrie Irving, Nikola Jokic and Kevin Durant!

The Nets aren’t short of creators. Irving and James Harden alone are as good a combo as there is in the NBA, but their stars are mostly perimeter-centric. Harden is the best pick-and-roll maestro in the league and Irving oozes with isolation prowess, but even Kevin Durant isn’t banging down low in the post. LMA, on the other hand, went to work against any and all defenders Charlotte provided. As Irving said of his new teammate post-game, “I think he’s missed posting up.”

In the example above, Aldridge is able to beat down on Miles Bridges after his primary assignment for Charlotte, Cody Zeller, is switched onto Tyler Johnson on the perimeter. Aldridge gets comfortable at the logo, and bodies into Bridges. After one dribble, he flashes a shoulder fake he has perfected, and calmly drains the jumper. Postgame, Aldridge touched on the simplicity on his offensive role...

Matter-of-fact veteran comment.

Getting by in drop coverage

As I said earlier, my biggest worry with adding Aldridge was his lack of lateral quickness, and therefore, his struggles defending the pick-and-roll, which has become a staple in every successful NBA offense. Make no mistake, LMA is still slow, but the Nets are using him in such a scheme that hides his weakness well. Usually, the Nets run a switch-everything scheme (or at least as much as possible) which means that on a ball screen, the players defending the ball-handler and screener will simply swap assignments. I wrote about how center Nic Claxton excels in this scheme.

The Nets had Aldridge play drop coverage instead. In drop, the player defending the ball screener will fight around the screen, taking away a 3-pointer and forcing the ball handler towards the basket. Meanwhile, the screener’s man will backpedal towards the paint to protect the rim while offering up a typically inefficient mid-range jump shot and containing the screener as he rolls.

Here, Bruce Brown navigates around Bismack Biyombo’s ball screen for Terry Rozier, staying on his hip to negate any three-point opportunities. Aldridge prepares to contest at the basket while keeping his arm out in case Biyombo is fed the ball. Rozier rises for a floater, and LMA meets him at his apex for a great vertical contest finished off with a rebound. Well schemed, well executed...

No, you’re not seeing double. In a similar play, Aldridge drops well in coverage to contest Malik Monk’s driving attempt after he receives a ball screen from Zeller. Monk takes a scary fall, so hopefully he’ll be alright.

Making life easier for teammates with spacing

Despite being a mainstay from the block for nearly a decade, Aldridge had never consistently ventured to shooting 3-pointers consistently - that is, until last season. The former Spur attempted three triples on 38.9 percent efficiency in his last full season in San Antonio. The Nets clearly hope this relatively newfound skill of his will carry on into his tenure in Brooklyn and he’s already flashed 3-point shooting prowess in his first game, nailing his only attempt...

It’s been years since the Nets have had a center who can shoot the long ball as well as Aldridge can. His floor spacing is sure to help out his new teammates in ways previous options at center that DeAndre Jordan, (who received his second DNP-CD of the season) Jarrett Allen, and Nicolas Claxton were not able to.

One player in particular I’d look out for is Bruce Brown in the Aldridge Era. James Harden has helped transform Brown into a short-roll threat by weaponizing his floater and general at-rim finishing in pick-and-rolls.

Brown has been hampered at times when another big man has taken up space in the paint and limited his open opportunities. With Aldridge stretching the floor, look for Brown to get even more easy shots.

Distributing from down low

Aldridge has never been known for his passing chops, but his six assists Thursday night make more sense once you think about it. After giving Charlotte hell down play after play, the Hornets started sending multiple defenders at Aldridge in the post, forcing anyone else to beat them. Unfortunately for them, that won’t work too well against a team with four shooters hitting threes at a near-40 percent clip or better as well as a few streaky infernos off the bench.

First it was Joe Harris. Then it was Tyler Johnson. Then Jeff Green. The Nets adding another shooter who draws multiple defenders and who is able to kick out to open shooters just seems unfair at this point. Aldridge doesn’t even have to be the most accurate or skilled passer as long as he is willing to make the right play when needed. And for a veteran who’s still striving for that first championship, I have no doubt that he’ll have no issue sacrificing his turnaround jumpers for open triples when necessary.

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Ultimately, there is still a lot more LaMarcus Aldridge needs to show the Nets before we all know what he can offer in a new system. But for a player who was brought in simply to be an alternative to DeAndre Jordan in the rotation, I’m not sure anyone could’ve asked for a better debut.