OKC Thunder 2011-2012 Final Player Grades and Season-End Profile: Cole Aldrich

May 3, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Cole Aldrich (45) drives the ball past Dallas Mavericks power forward Yi Jianlian (9) during game three in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the American Airlines Center. The Thunder defeated the Mavericks 95-79. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

Name: Cole Aldrich

Nickname: "Cole Sore"

Player History:

After three years at the University of Kansas and recognized as the 2009-2010 Academic All-American of the Year, Aldrich declared himself eligible for the draft in 2010. The New Orleans Hornets selected Aldrich with the 11th pick in the draft, a draft which was initially known as the "John Wall draft plus a bunch of other guys." The Hornets immediately traded Aldrich and Morris Peterson to the Thunder for the 21st and 26th picks of the first round. The Thunder signed him to a two year deal with a two year option. Ideally, he will become the backup center for the Thunder. Aldrich has just completed his 2nd NBA season.

Pre-Season Expectations:

Heading into the abbreviated season as the 3rd string center, Aldrich really had only one goal in front of him - to supplant Nazr Mohammed and earn consistent minutes. Mohammed was the seasoned veteran who helped the 2nd unit at times with stability, scoring, and rebounding. Mohammed is reaching the tail end of his career, but he performed that stable role well so Aldrich essentially had to bring more to the table than mere stability. He had to bring defensive energy, rebounding, and the often under-appreciated 'hustle plays' that don't show up in the game log but often help create momentum swings during a game (think of guys like Chris Andersen and Ronny Turiaf).

Regular Season Grade: C-

Aldrich had a very difficult time cracking the regular rotation. While Mohammed played solidly if unspectacular, it was clear halfway through the season that Aldrich's 2012 was not going to be the year where he made an impact. Even as Mohammed's minutes declined as the season wound down, Aldrich was not given the additional minutes to try and improve his standing with the team.

It is probably fair to put some of the blame in Aldrich's development in the hands of coach Brooks, who never really seemed to develop a plan on how to use Aldrich. If it were merely a case of Mohammed still playing well, that decision would be understandable. However, as the season wound down and it appeared that OKC downshifted into 3rd gear to play out the season, it seems like it would have been a perfect time for Aldrich to get some more minutes with the 2nd unit and see if he could provide the energy that seemed so sorely lacking in the month of April. For better or worse, the month of April also seemed to be the time when Brooks was trying to pare down his playoff rotation, and that was a rotation that Aldrich wasn't likely to be a part of.

In the end, Aldrich did not quite meet the level that we had hoped for this past season, which would have been regular 10-15 minutes per game, but that had as much to do with Brooks' rotational management as anything else. Hopefully 2012-13 will be more kind.

Post-Season Grade: Incomplete

Aldrich's play during the 2012 playoffs was limited to clean-up time during routs. While we forever hoped that he would punctuate a win with a "Cole Slam!" there were unfortunately far too few opportunities. To the sadness of everyone, Aldrich was on the court in the end of Game 5, and not because the Thunder were about to win the Finals.

Most Memorable Game: vs Atlanta Hawks on March 3rd

As the 3rd string center, Aldrich saw precious few opportunities to have a meaningful impact in games this past season, but one in which he did was the March 3rd loss to the Hawks. It was a game where the Thunder were really struggling in the interior to keep the Hawks off the offensive boards and away from the rim. Kendrick Perkins in particular had a rough night out, fouling out in only 16 minutes of play. Mohammed could not provide the athleticism that was needed, so Scott Brooks turned to Aldrich to give the team some energy in the post.

Aldrich responded by scoring 6 points and grabbing 7 rebounds in 14 minutes of play. Most importantly, he showed his value as an 'energy' big man by getting 5 of those rebounds on the offensive end and blocking 3 shots on defense. This is the kind of production of which Aldrich is capable; he is an active big man who at this time relies more on instinct than technique, but sometimes instinct and aggression is what a team needs. He is always going to have a tough time staying on the court when he throws caution to the wind as he did on this night, but his aggressive play was instrumental in covering up Perkins' poor outing and helped the Thunder get back in the game in the 4th quarter.

Most Memorable Single Moment:

Yeah it was in garbage time in a rout and yeah, it was against the Raptors, but still, this was a nice pivot move and power slam by Aldrich:

The situation aside, I think the play showcases well that Aldrich is no stiff; he has some quicks and athleticism in those appendages and has the ability to contribute in meaningful game situations.

Future Expectations:

The 2012-13 season is going to be the make-it-or-break-it year for Aldrich. He spent much of his first year shuttling between Tulsa and OKC and most of his second year riding the pine behind Nazr Mohammed, hopefully learning the ropes of how to be a pro. Now that there is a reasonable likelihood that Mohammed won't be returning, there is nothing standing in the way for Aldrich to work into the back-up center role. The Thunder essentially chose Aldrich as their big man of the future last season when they shipped out both Byron Mullins and D.J. White, so it is time for Aldrich to prove that the front office made the right decision.

Furthermore, Mohammed himself feels that it is Aldrich's time to make his imprint on the team. I think that this quote from Nazr says as much about Cole as it does about Nazr's professionalism:

"If I was in his position, I’d want to get on the court...I feel that that’s the next progression. You’ve got to give him a chance and see what you’ve got. That’s the way the game is. If you’ve got the choice of investing in a guy 14 years in the game or a guy in his third year, you’ve got to go with the guy in his third year and see what he’s got."

Aldrich is still an athletic but raw player on both ends of the court. I think his talent can definitely lead to earning some minutes during meaningful games, but he has to spend sufficient time in the off-season learning how to rope in his instinctual talents so that he is not playing too aggressively.

But yes, Mohammed is right. Aldrich is a rising 3rd year pro, has the talent, has the energy, hopefully has the desire, so now it's time for the Thunder to give him a chance and see what they've got.

2012-13 or bust, Cole. Make it happen.

***

Player Grades:

A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations

Other Player Grades:

X
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