Cole Aldrich Key Stats
In his first two years in Los Angeles, Doc Rivers seemed determined to find a big man capable of making three point baskets and stretching the floor. To that end, he brought in Byron Mullens and Spencer Hawes, and both of these additions turned out to be busts. Due to Rivers' offensive schemes, they took a lot of threes, but they failed to make enough to maintain a legitimate role in the rotation. Hawes' short-lived career in Los Angeles was particularly disappointing, as his signing seemed like a real coup for Rivers in the summer of 2014. Tasked this off-season with bolstering the Clippers' lackluster bench, Rivers finally elected to forgo the search for a stretch big man and find a backup center with the physical presence to deter some shot attempts, play adequate defense, and grab rebounds. If that player could score a few baskets, it would be even better. 26 year-old Cole Aldrich fit the bill, and Rivers signed him to a two-year guaranteed contract at the veteran's minimum.
While there is no denying that the multifaceted Josh Smith is the primary backup to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, Aldrich is the only bench player who exclusively plays center. Due to the ineffectiveness of Hawes, Rivers relied quite a bit last season on 6'9" Glen "Big Baby" Davis as the backup center. In contrast to Davis, Aldrich has prototypical size for his position and figures to be more effective at defending the rim. Aldrich is unlikely to receive many minutes this season, but he should be a serviceable center when Rivers wants a big lineup on the court, and he cannot play Jordan.
Aldrich, who attended the University of Kansas for three years, comes to the Clippers after one and a half seasons with the woeful New York Knicks. The Knicks compiled a video of Aldrich's highlights from last season:
Aldrich averaged 16 minutes per game in 2014-2015, and his per game numbers were 5.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. His per 36 minutes numbers for last season are downright respectable at 12.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks, and his PER was also above average at 18.16. However, that Knicks team was so dreadful, both offensively and defensively, that it is difficult to make much of Aldrich's numbers. It is hard to imagine that he is a walking double-double on a quality team on which he plays the bulk of the minutes at his position. He lacks the athleticism, quickness, and finesse that this would likely require. However, he is a big body, and he seems to play hard. He should be able to hold his own in limited minutes against fellow reserves.
Aldrich's biggest impact may be on the defensive side of the ball. His size allows him to be a rim protector, and he appears to have some shot-blocking skills. This block against rookie-of-the-year Andrew Wiggins is a beauty:
Defensively, Aldrich may be exactly the kind of player that the Clippers need on their bench. Although "Big Baby" had some (lateral) size, played hard, and possessed surprisingly quick feet, his lack of length made him mostly ineffective at protecting the rim. Aldrich may make an opposing player think twice before approaching the rim, and such hesitation can only help the Clippers defensively when Jordan is sitting on the bench. The Clippers bench was a defensive sieve last season, and this may have been exacerbated by their lack of size in the paint.
Offensively, anything Aldrich contributes is icing on the cake. Based on his comments at media day, he understands that he will have to set screens, and he seems confident in his ability to do just that. He does not have a perimeter game, but he can dunk the ball, and he seems to have a special fondness for the hook shot. On April 15, 2015, Aldrich scored his career high of 24 points against the Detroit Pistons. The video of his highlights from the game shows a mix of dunks, putbacks and hook shots:
Fortunately, Aldrich appears to know his limitations, and it is unlikely that he will be taking ill-advised jumpers. He seems to have some ability to score when he is within a few feet of the basket, and it is encouraging that he goes after potential offensive rebounds. More good news for Clippers fans is the fact that Aldrich has made 78% of his free throws during his career.
If Jordan had elected to sign a contract with the Dallas Mavericks, it is possible that Aldrich could have been the primary center for this year's Clippers, but his current, limited role on the bench suits him much better than that role would have. Aldrich may not be a game changer, but unlike his predecessors last year, he should not be a liability in his putative role as a backup center.