Tue. Jan 25th, 2022

When the Brooklyn Nets (8-4) first acquired LaMarcus Aldridge via buyout market last season, they probably didn’t expect this level of play from the 36-year-old. The seven-time All-Star abruptly retired after appearing in just five games for Brooklyn because of concerns related to an irregular heartbeat last season. At that point the possibility he might become one of their best players through 12 games this season seemed impossible. But here we are. The rest of the Nets sound like they have a ton of respect for him.

Rewind to last April when we received the sobering news about one of the league’s classiest stars.

After being medically cleared to play again and speaking with his family, the Texas native let Nets leadership know he wanted back in. Of course the Nets had to be sure he was sure.

In a season full of some not-so-pleasant surprises (from the way new rules have effected James Harden to Kyrie Irving’s indefinite absence) LA has been the most pleasant surprise.

On Wednesday, LaMarcus Aldridge had his third 20-point game of the season off the bench. That matched the most 20-point games posted by a Net off the bench all of last season (Caris LeVert and Landry Shamet), according to the Nets.

He has shot the absolute lights out of the new Wilson ball. Aldridge has hit 20-of-24 mid-range shots between 15-19 feet away. You can read that again. That’s over 83 percent he has drained on those shots. He’s 36-of-57 on all shots between 10-24 feet, good for 63 percent. At one point, YES Network’s Ian Eagle called him “LaAutomatic” in the most recent road- ictory.

“Every individual on this team has the utmost confidence,” said teammate DeAndre’ Bembry following the win in Orlando, the team’s sixth in seven games. “LA for sure. Once he sees one go in he thinks every one is gonna drop. The last few games he’s been showing that he still looks like the LA that we know. He’s super talented, he’s super confident, I mean, I dunno if I’ve seen someone shoot he ball as well as he’s doing,” gushed Bembry.

Consider this. Aldridge has been so lethal on jump shots that on a night when teammate Kevin Durant connected on 11 of 12 from the floor, Bembry said he isn’t sure if he has seen anyone shoot the ball as well as LaMarcus! That’s respect.

According to Nets head coach Steve Nash, “he’s won us a few games and been a big part of our success this year.”

“He gives us a scoring punch off the bench,” continued the coach. “But also just a veteran who knows how to play both ends of the floor. He’s seen it all. He’s been great and really important to us.”

Nash talked about how Aldridge has been so reliable that he anchors bench units without either Durant or James Harden on the floor. This is a rotation luxury they may not have expected. In the past, the team exhibited more of a “star stagger.”

“The way we’re rotating right now is with Kevin and James both off the floor,” explained Nash. “So to have LA out there and he can anchor us a little bit give us some shotmaking. … He’s been really foundational for that second unit.”

Aldridge is now averaging 13.1 points per game to go with 5.5 rebounds. He’s even 6-of-13 from 3 on the year. He’s over 23 points per 36 minutes, a walking bucket.

Durant spoke glowingly about his teammate after the win.

“[LaMarcus Aldridge] just wants to win, wants to be in a culture like this that is fighting for something bigger than yourself. Sacrifice to come off the bench, sacrifice touches, shot attempts, but still staying ready. That’s a true pro, true vet. 9-for-16, 21 points and we still coulda passed him the ball a little bit more. So he’s staying ready and that’s a testament to how hard he work. … We’re excited he’s on our team, excited he’s finding his rhythm again. He looks amazing.”

If Aldridge continues to play this way, it will make his $2.6 million salary look like one of the best bargains in the sport. And the Nets can use all of the help they can get. With Irving’s absence and Harden’s slow start, they’ve been in need of pleasant surprises.

LA has crushed his expectations already.

Nikola Vucevic, Bulls, COVID-19, Zach LaVine

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