Today we take a look at one of the Thunder's young draftees, Cole Aldrich. Aldrich had difficulty seeing NBA action this season, dividing much of his time between sitting on the bench in street clothes and spending time in Tulsa playing for the D-League team, the Tulsa 66ers.
Aldrich has just completed his first year in the NBA. 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.
Aldrich had a difficult time getting on the court this season because he, like D.J. White, was at the bottom of the depth chart behind starting center Nenad Krstic and power forward Serge Ibaka. Aldrich is long and lithe, but at a mere 245 pounds he is not yet bulked up enough to challenge other NBA centers and power forwards. As a result, Aldrich spent most of his time in Tulsa playing for the Thunder's D-League team, the Tulsa 66ers. All together, Aldrich was assigned to Tulsa three times, on November 24, December 30, and March 30.
The Thunder was willing to give up multiple draft picks and take on a bad contract in order to acquire Aldrich, so I imagine that the team was hoping that Aldrich would immediately begin competing for a role on the Thunder's bench. Even with the success of the previous season, the Thunder's opening-day line-up was weak across the front line, featuring Krstic, Kevin Durant, and Jeff Green. The team drafted Aldrich for his defense, and I imagine that they were hoping he could come in right away and contribute in limited capacity.
Regular Season Grade: D
Unfortunately for Aldrich, he was not able to get on the court nearly enough to demonstrate his defensive skills or make any sort of impact on the team's direction. His best opportunity this past season would have been to earn some minutes while the Thunder still had Krstic and Green on the front line. During those months of uneven defensive play, there was real need for a strong post presence to step up. Serge Ibaka was making a strong play to become the team's starting power forward, and Aldrich could have likewise turned some heads by showing some strength and assertiveness.
Although the reports are hard to come by, the word on the street that I read over the course of the season was that Aldrich was not willing to put in the work in the early going that could have earned him rotation minutes. There was not much hard and fast evidence that came out of the Thunder camp, and the reports that came out about Aldrich were usually limited to his reassignments, so at best all we can do is speculate. That said, if his early work ethic was an issue, I would imagine that the discrepancy was only made more stark because of the rigorous tone that is set in practices by Durant and Russell Westbrook. If those team leaders got the sense that Aldrich wasn't ready and willing to put forth a strong effort in practice, then trust in game-situations would have been even harder to come by.
By the time the mid-season trade came along, shoring up the front line with Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed, Aldrich's opportunity to get on the court this season was eliminated.
Post-Season Grade: N/A
Most Memorable Game
Aldrich really only saw floor time when the team was in the middle of a rout, so Aldrich's moments to shine were relegated to garbage time. Players like Aldrich need to make an impression whenever they get the opportunity, and in the few times early in the season that Aldrich had a shot, he did struggle. Poor play in pressure-less environments lent further credence to the notion that Cole did not yet have the workman's persona that the Thunder require. For example, in the team's win against the 76ers on November 10, he managed to commit four fouls and three turnovers in a scant nine minutes of play.
Unfortunately for Aldrich, if he left any memories in his year one, they were of this variety.
Most Memorable Single Moment
Aldrich's best moment of this past season really doesn't even involve a game, per se. While he has spent most of his time dressed in street clothes while the Thunder moved through the regular season and playoffs, he did happen by a fortuitous bit of timing and a humble team leader.
Did you see him?
Aldrich is in a difficult spot now, because the Thunder front line is now talented, experienced, and deep. Perkins and Ibaka are locked in as the muscle, and Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed offer exceptional talent and ability in their back-up roles. Aldrich is going to have to show the team that he can compete in practices first before he is going to start taking away minutes from those guys.
That said, OKC has proven to be a meritocracy, and if he can show some signs, the team will likely be willing to give him a chance. His best chance now is a function of the franchise he plays for. If Aldrich can show steady improvement and a desire and commitment to what the organization is doing, he can see his value in the league rise.
A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations