LaMarcus Aldridge has joined Kevin Durant and James Harden as a member of the 20,000-point club. But can he join his Nets teammates as a reliable third scorer?
“It feels good, man, a true blessing,” Aldridge said of reaching the plateau during Friday’s win over the Pacers. “Definitely didn’t think it was going to happen after what happened last year. Stuck with it, fought back, and it definitely felt good to get it done and get back out there and just feel blessed.”
What happened last year was Aldridge earned a starting spot after joining the Nets midseason, only to be diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. He was forced to retire in April after just five appearances as a Net — and 49 points shy of history.
Getting that share of history — and a chance at a ring — lured him back after he was medically cleared to play again.
“When he retired I didn’t know he was that close until right before we were about to sign him,” Durant said. “Couple [of] months before we were about to sign him, ‘Oh, s–t, L retired with 49 points left.’ I know he [was] thinking about it, so I guess that helped him come back, forced him back a little more. I’m glad he’s back into the game. He’s going to score more points this season, so I’m looking forward to it.”
So are the Nets.
Durant and Harden predictably lead the Nets in scoring, but with Kyrie Irving out indefinitely due to his refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccination, the team can use another reliable offensive option.
Both Joe Harris and sixth man Patty Mills will enter Sunday’s game against Detroit averaging in double figures. But it’s Aldridge who is third on the Nets in scoring at 12 points per game.
Oh, and he is just the seventh active member of the 20,000-point club — and the third Net to reach that milestone.
After the Nets fell behind by 16 points in the second quarter Friday, Aldridge came off the bench to turn the game. He scored 17 of his 21 points after the break, including his milestone on a 22-foot jumper with 1:58 left in the third quarter.
“He has scoring instincts, something you condition your mind for as a kid,” Durant said. “You just know how to score the basketball no matter what. In any situation, he’s one of those guys that can get his in the midst of a lot of chaos.
“Twenty thousand points for a career. Only, what, 48 players did that? There’s thousands of players who played this game. That’s a huge accomplishment. … I know he wants much more, but this is a huge milestone for him.”
Durant has 24,054 points in his illustrious career, 26th all time. Harden has 22,157, for 33rd. Aldridge sits at No. 48 with 20,011 points — most of them seemingly coming on his reliable midrange jumper.
“He’s been doing it for so long, I’d think he has 10,000 jump shots to make 20,000 points,” Harden said. “But just a vet who’s been doing it a very, very long time. He’s very consistent.”
That consistency is wrought from routine, shooting extra jumpers after practice and before games.
“Man, years,” Aldridge said. “Been doing the same thing for a while. … I’ve kind of [fine-tuned] my game over the years. As you watch film … you learn where your shots come from in your game. So I try to incorporate that into my practice shooting and pregame shoot so that in the game it’s just easy.”
Aldridge has made it look easy. At 36 he may not be the most athletic player, but has the best plus-minus on the Nets at plus-5.0. And the Nets are minus-8.5 when he has been off the floor, the biggest differential for any player on the roster.
That consistency might be even more key should head coach Steve Nash decide to start Aldridge, as he did last season. The Nets have struggled with digging early holes, a habit Aldridge knows they need to break.
“We just got to understand that we’re one of the favorites, so every team is going to come in here and just want to give us an L,” Aldridge said. “Guys just playing up for us, so we got to make sure we are always ready for that.”