It may have not been a giant splash in the NBA universe when the Thunder traded their #21 and #26 picks to the Hornets for #11 pick Cole Aldrich and Morris Peterson’s $6.2 million dollar contract, but the ramifications of that maneuver revealed very interesting and very significant things about where the Thunder are at in the franchise’s young history and where they intend to go from here.
So let’s have a look at just what that maneuver means for the Thunder franchise:
1. The Thunder will not be players in free agency
All that cap space that so many people have been either complaining about (not using it) or raving about (we’re getting Bosh! we’re getting Bosh!!!!) regarding how to run a team and what the team will do in free agency and who they will go after.
From Daequan Cook to Mo Peterson to the 11th overall pick in Cole Aldrich, that projected $15 million dollars in cap space has been widdled all the way down to about $6.6 million ($5.6 million if they re-sign Kyle Weaver) which is enough to sign a Mid-level type of talent but definitely not enough to make any kind of neon-lights signing.
Which the Thunder were really never in the running to make in the first place despite however many individuals pined after or hoped for Chris Bosh or David Lee to make their way to OKC. That scenario never resonated with Presti’s mantra and I’m sure most free agents never really viewed OKC as that undeniable dream landing spot for an elite NBA free agent.
Whatever. Their loss, right?
2. The Thunder are more interested in immediate contributors than high lottery “projects”
Cole Aldrich is not about upside. Does he have one? Sure. Is his ceiling very far above his current abilities as a player? Absolutely not.
Aldrich does many things well and should continue to do those things at the next level since they are three of the things that translate best from the NCAA to the NBA (those things being rebounding, blocking shots and player efficiency, which includes offensive efficiency—yes, you read that last one correctly. It’s okay to be surprised. Lord knows I was).
But Aldrich is not a Byron Mullens type of player whose athleticism and relative lack of polish lends one to hope that, if given time and proper guidance, this raw prospect could develop into an entirely different/far superior player.
Best example? Aldrich holds the ball very high when he receives an entry pass and continues to keep it high if he grabs an offensive rebound, typically going straight back up with the tip or shot instead of endlessly pump-faking despite the opportunity for a good look being there initially. In essence, he already possesses traits that you want raw projects to learn during their development from great upside to realized ability. Toss on the fact that Aldrich has only above average athleticism and not some all-world, Dwight Howardian athleticism, and Aldrich should continue to improve at a steady pace instead of in leaps and bounds.
Aldrich’s attributes are the indications of a polished player, one who can certainly improve and become better but not someone who is raw and teeming with upside because of their lack of experience with the game or the fundamentals that oh so often go out the window with elite athleticism.
Why is this a big deal?
Because Mullens is an upside guy who was taken a year ago. Ibaka was an upside guy taken two years ago.
Aldrich is an immediate contributor who was taken 4 days ago. As Royce said, “Next is now.”
3. As he’s stated many, many times, Sam Presti prefers sustained team stability than huge overhauls or risky transactions
Sooner or later, we’re all going to get with the program and understand that Presti is not going to make any drastic alterations or blockbuster type moves that will shake-up the entire complexion and outlook of the Thunder organization.
Say it with me, “Sustained. Success. Sustained. Stability.”
Please remind me of what I just wrote when I continue hearing about Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors trade rumors. I will forget and start hoping/expecting something Presti is never going to even consider.
4. Cole Aldrich is expected to make an impact this season
You don’t move up from the 21st and 26th pick into the lottery for a polished, non-upside player at #11 if you’re just going to stash him in the D-League or sit him at the end of your bench.
A project with huge upside? Sure.
But not an NBA-ready player who fills a need within your organization. Make no mistake, Cole Aldrich was both a need and a “contribute now” selection for the Thunder.
A safe need and “contribute now” pick, for sure, but one who is expected to make an impact immediately nonetheless.
Here’s a look at what kind of impact he can make this year:
Cole Aldrich led ALL 2010 Draft prospect centers in defensive rebounds per 40 Minutes Pace Adjusted, ranking #1 at 9.7 defensive boards. On the other end, despite Kansas’ talented squad of offensive weapons and the subsequent efficient offense and shooting %, Aldrich still managed to rank #3 in offensive rebounds per 40MPA for centers drafted in the first round at 4.4 boards (behind Demarcus Cousins and Kevin Seraphin).
Cole Aldrich ranked third for all 2010 Draft prospect centers in blocked shots per 40 MPA at 5 blocks.
Cole Aldrich was tied for third lowest turnovers per 40 MPA at 2.2 giveways. Accordingly, Aldrich had the 8th best Assist-to-Turnover ratio in the center draft class despite playing in a role that fairly limited his usage as a passer (mainly outlet passes), which means that A) Aldrich is fine playing within his role and maximizing his strengths while minimizing his weaknesses and B) Cole is very efficient as a distributor, especially for a team that likes to run in a transition game after a missed basket or a defensive stop. Hmmm, who do we know who fits that type of play style…
Only Greg Monroe and Cole Aldrich ranked in the bottom half for fouls committed out of the 2010 center draft class for players who were drafted in the first round, which is one of the only statistics you really want to be rated towards the bottom in. This makes them the least foul prone elite bigs in the draft.
Cole Aldrich ranks in the Top 5 in Player Efficiency Rating (ranks #2 in PER out of centers taken in the first round, behind only DeMarcus Cousins) in terms of how much impact a single player has for his team on a per game basis. This is fairly surprising as Kansas’ depth and overall talent level, not to mention Aldrich’s limited role on offense, would have undoubtedly been a detractor for Aldrich’s PER rating. Yet, the fact that he ranks this high would indicate that even in a fairly limited role, Aldrich performs well above average in terms of efficiency and overall impact.
This is even further supported when one looks at Aldrich’s True Shooting % among all 2010 Draft centers. Cole Aldrich ranks #1 in first round centers at 61%, which is an above average score for a statistic that is very important and telling for centers in terms of how efficient they are at getting good looks at the rim and then how well they convert those looks.
What makes Aldrich’s TS% so revealing about his offensive efficiency is due to the fact that Aldrich only scored 16.6 points per 40 MPA during the last year because of his limited offensive role. Aldrich will never be a #1 offensive option or a player who pours in points out of the paint, but based off of every relevant offensive statistic, Aldrich can be an incredibly efficient offensive player both in the paint/at the rim and a guy who can get you double digit scoring numbers in a rather limited role in the offensive system.
So what kind of impact will Aldrich make?
Got me. For each of Aldrich’s rather impressive strengths he does have weaknesses (like most players) that bring up questions about how effective he could be for the Thunder or if he is just a longer, slightly more athletic and better passing Nick Collison, with the standing reach, mobility and court awareness to man the center position for a team in desperate need of a rebounding, shot-blocking, highly efficient low-post scorer. In essence, Aldrich could simply be a stop-gap to stem the tide of opposing teams’ offensive rebounds and easy buckets at the rim instead of that low post threat on both ends that would complete this young roster for the next decade.
Like I said, I don’t know. But what I do know is that by drafting Cole Aldrich, the Thunder have officially signaled the rest of the league that the rebuilding effort is over and done with.
It’s competing for a championship mode. And by maneuvering to get that 11th pick, Sam Presti and Co. sent out a flare that signaled full speed ahead.
When’s the season start again?