There’s an old expression among the basketball community, or at least a few of the people associated with said community, "seven footers don’t grow on trees." Perhaps that is why Cole Aldrich was an intriguing player during this offseason and what made him so attractive to the Los Angeles Clippers. After going through the motions with backup big men last season, the Clippers needed someone a little more defensive oriented to man the middle whenever the starting frontcourt was sitting on the bench. Below, we will glance at the possible influences that Aldrich can make on the court during the upcoming season.
Roughly a month ago – on July 13th to be exact – the Clippers signed center Cole Aldrich. The professional career of Aldrich started back in 2010 when the New Orleans Hornets drafted him with the eleventh overall selection and then traded him shortly thereafter on draft night to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the draft rights to Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter. During his two years in Oklahoma City, Aldrich only played 315 minutes and scored a grand total of 75 points. He was routinely assigned to and recalled from the Thunder D-League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers. In October of 2012, just prior to the season kicking off, the Thunder traded Aldrich to the Houston Rockets in that larger James Harden deal.
Aldrich only played in 30 games for the Rockets, totaling 213 minutes and 50 points, before Houston sent him packing in a trade made just one day before the deadline. It was highlighted by Patrick Patterson and Thomas Robinson switching locations; Patterson went from the Rockets to the Sacramento Kings while Robinson went the other way. Aldrich finished the season out with the Kings by appearing in 15 games, playing 175 minutes, and scoring 50 points. Prior to the 2013-14 season, Aldrich signed a deal with the New York Knicks but only played in 46 games as he spent time between the D-League – with the Erie BayHawks – and the NBA. He re-signed with the Knicks prior to this past season and wound up producing the best season of his career. He posted averages of 5.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.1 blocks on 47.8 percent shooting in 16.0 minutes per game. As a starter for the Knicks in 16 games, Aldrich averaged 10.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.1 blocks in 24.0 minutes while also shooting 52.1 percent. The Knicks really gave Cole Aldrich a chance last year.
In an ongoing ESPN.com series, Phil Jackson was asked to give his final evaluations from this past season. When mentioning Aldrich, he painted a broad stroke over some of Cole’s glaring weaknesses and work that he put in. Jackson called Aldrich "not as athletic as an NBA center is supposed to be" and that he "couldn’t move his feet quickly enough to avoid getting beaten on screen-rolls." Jackson topped it off by saying Aldrich’s "NBA niche is probably being a fourth or fifth big man in a three-man rotation." That’s just a polite way of saying Aldrich doesn’t deserve much playing time at all. However, the Hall of Fame head coach and now president of the New York Knicks went on to say that the seven footer did "improve his game as the season progressed" and that he showcased some "accuracy on his lefty and right jump hooks." When Phil Jackson speaks, everyone tends to listen; even if it’s not #goink to come across as well-thought-out.
However, what Jackson does say about Aldrich rings quite true. Cole did show improvements in his game as the season progressed and did display solid jump hooks. On the flip side, Jackson is also right in saying that Aldrich isn’t athletic and can’t move his feet well. The quote about whether or not Aldrich’s role is as a bench big who never plays is up for debate. We’re here to just show the positives that Aldrich can bring to the team; even if it is in a far limited role and only for about five minutes a night. As a reminder, the Clippers had Spencer Hawes last season and big things were expected. Those big things never happened. With Aldrich, the expectations are set extremely low so perhaps he can exceed them seeing as how there's zero weight on his shoulders and he is in an environment where his role is nothing more than just a big man who can be tall, rebound, block the occasional shot, and maybe toss in a hook shot every now and then. Let’s dive into the footage.
One of the things that Phil Jackson said Cole Aldrich did well was the progression he made with his jump hooks. On this play, the Knicks are at the world famous Madison Square Garden to take on the Detroit Pistons. It’s late in the second quarter and the ball is brought into the frontcourt by Jose Calderon, who gives it off to Travis Wear before getting it back. Calderon tries to get to the edge but Anthony Tolliver stops his progress. This forces Calderon to bring the ball back out. Aldrich spots this and slides across the paint to post up against Andre Drummond. Calderon feeds Aldrich the ball and then clears out in order to let Aldrich do his thing; and that’s exactly what Aldrich does here. He backs Drummond down with his right shoulder, spins back to the left, and throws up a right-handed hook shot that goes in.
Drummond, the primary defender on this play, allowed opponents to average 0.90 points per possession and 45.4 percent shooting during post-up possessions last season. No, that isn’t elite. However, Drummond is still a sizable defensive presence and shot blocker due to his athleticism and length. Aldrich still scored over him and got the post hook to work for himself. This is a positive look at Aldrich’s development over the years. It’s something he’s worked on and something that he’s able to use even against players that have the ability to stop him.
This is a far more impressive play from Aldrich considering exactly who he goes one-on-one in the post against here. Possession starts for the Knicks as Jose Calderon dribbles into the frontcourt of the Memphis Grizzlies and passes to Shane Larkin on the left wing after receiving a screen from Aldrich. Cole posts up Marc Gasol just below the left elbow for quite some time before Larkin actually gets him the ball. It took two more passes before the entry pass to Aldrich even got made. After receiving the ball, Aldrich throws a quick little shimmy at Gasol and then bumps into Marc with his right shoulder. The second Aldrich feels the contact, he spins to his right and throws up a left-handed hook shot that goes down smoothly.
There are three great things here on this play as far as Cole Aldrich is concerned. First, he doesn’t get discouraged when he didn’t get the ball during his initial post-up against Marc Gasol. Instead, he fought to get better position a little lower on the block and eventually got the ball there. Secondly, he recognized where the help defense was coming from and went away from it rather than turning into it. Tony Allen and Mike Conley attempt to dig down and swarm Aldrich the second he starts to nudge into Gasol. Aldrich saw that and that’s where the spin move really came in handy as it spun him away from trouble. Lastly, Aldrich actually looked the part of a seven footer here. Gasol is not a small man yet Aldrich out-sized him and used that size to an even greater advantage to score.
So we’ve seen that Aldrich can make a hook shot every now and then. What about the other stuff? Well, he is seven feet and can be a rim deterrent if in proper position; which is something that occurs during this play. Long story short, the Detroit Pistons work the ball around the perimeter from Brandon Jennings to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope before Caldwell-Pope kicks it into Greg Monroe on the left block against Jason Smith. Monroe displays his above-average footwork here by getting Smith with a shoulder fake, a ball fake, and an up-and-under within the span of a split second. It gets Smith all out of whack and Monroe has an easy bucket; or he would have had Cole Aldrich not been there to reject the ball out of bounds. Aldrich was stuck with Andre Drummond on this play but did a good job of sliding over the second he saw that Smith got beat on the up-and-under. It allowed him to be in position to swat the shot.
Yet another play that Aldrich makes an impact defensively by just being tall. The San Antonio Spurs initiate their offense by having Cory Joseph dump it into Boris Diaw in the space between the right block and right elbow. Diaw’s working against Jason Smith and proceeds to start backing him down but never lowers his head. Diaw is a master of keeping his head up for passing angles and options. Alexey Shved turns his head to stare at what Diaw is doing and completely loses sight of his own man. Danny Green spots this and makes an immediate cut to the center of the paint. Diaw nails Green on the cut and Green has a seemingly open layup or dunk. However, Aldrich spots the Green cut. The second Diaw hits Green with the pass, Aldrich rotates off of Jeff Ayres in order to contest the shot. Aldrich meets Green at the summit and blocks the shot out along the baseline.
The last two plays being made are just a major advantage that lanky seven footers possess. When he measured for the NBA Draft several years ago, Aldrich came in at a shade over 6’11" while also having roughly a 7’5" wingspan and 9’3½" standing reach. Despite his lack of athleticism, Aldrich has the size and length to alter shots inside the paint as long as he’s in the right spot at the right time. Being a subpar athlete doesn’t help you defensively unless you have a firm grasp of everything that’s going on around you. Aldrich is 26 years old but turns 27 on Halloween. He’s pretty much the player that he’s going to be but he did show some progression recently that gives you a bit of hope for him being somewhat of a difference maker defensively when he sees court time. Even miniscule things like deterring shots in the paint are a big deal; he can possibly provide that. But probably not much else.
As has been stated numerous times, Aldrich isn’t exactly the most athletic center in the entire league. That doesn’t mean he still can’t flash some form of competent athleticism from time to time. Here, we see Pablo Prigioni bringing the ball up the court and attempting to just leave the ball for Carmelo Anthony on the wing. Anthony doesn’t expect this and the ball almost gets stolen. John Wall hits the ground and tries to get up to recover back to Prigioni but that ultimately doesn’t matter since Prigioni never gets involved in the play beyond this. From here, Anthony takes the frail Otto Porter off the dribble and bullies him to just underneath the free throw line. Aldrich watches Anthony move towards the paint and immediately starts walking down to the right block for a pass. Marcin Gortat, the center for the Washington Wizards, is caught in a predicament here. Gortat steps up to stop the Anthony penetration but leaves Aldrich wide open to Gortat’s left. Anthony hits Aldrich in stride and Aldrich slams the ball with authority.
Cole Aldrich might have one of the easiest jobs in the NBA this upcoming season. Last season, Spencer Hawes struggled to backup Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan but Aldrich might be better suited for the job simply because he’s not going to be stuck out on the perimeter for offense and no one really expects much out of him. Aldrich is also a better rim protector than Hawes happens to be and is a better rebounder. Those are pluses as far as the team is concerned. The team doesn’t need Aldrich for offense but a hook shot here and there or a dunk attempt won’t be completely frowned upon. Aldrich being born on Halloween does make some sense since he’s about as athletic as the main character – Michael Myers – in the film series named after the holiday. The Clippers season doesn’t hinge upon Aldrich’s performance but anything they get from him is gravy. He can play alongside either Griffin or Josh Smith for spot minutes on a game-by-game basis. Aldrich is a solid option at the minimum.