It wasn’t exactly a highly anticipated debut like John Wall’s or Blake Griffin’s, but the Thunder’s top pick in last June’s draft made his first appearance Sunday night playing 11 minutes.
Cole Aldrich didn’t have a line that jumps out at you – five points, two rebounds – but in the small time on the floor, we got a pretty solid look at what he can add and why he caught Sam Presti’s eye.
Aldrich made an immediate impact on the game, loudly dunking an offensive rebound for his first NBA points. But in just a couple possessions, he greatly affected the Jazz offense with his length and instincts. Here are two possessions I thought were good examples:
In the first play, Aldrich just does an excellent job of not giving ground to Al Jefferson. But even before that, watch how Aldrich is just active. He uses his ridiculous wingspan to clog the lane and cover up apparent passing lanes. He doesn’t even have to move to help on the cutter James Harden is trailing. He just has to stick his arm out.
The Jazz work the ball to Jefferson in the post and Aldrich stands Jefferson up – a supreme post player – and keeps him away from the low block position he wants. Aldrich does a really great job of not fouling while using his body to “feel” Jefferson. Meaning that Jefferson never really gets any separation. Then the Jazz big man spins to the lane and goes for a baby hook, but Aldrich is able to contest enough of it to bother Jefferson into a miss. Then he snatches the rebound and quickly outlets to a guard. Very nice work.
In the second play, Utah runs basically the same set with a curling cutter. This time the ball finds the cutter and Aldrich peels off Jefferson to help. My favorite part is how Aldrich basically guards two players at once. He knows how long he is and that he can get to a shot while keeping some distance. So he sort of stays in no-man’s land between C.J. Miles and Jefferson.
As a result, Miles doesn’t really know what to do. He can’t drop to Jefferson because Aldrich hasn’t fully separated and he doesn’t really have a clean layup because Aldrich is still in the area. So Miles tries to float one – watch how high he has to put it – which Aldrich just misses swatting. It was a play that doesn’t show up in any kind of box score for Aldrich, but basically was a stop because of his defense.
Those are two pretty small examples of what Aldrich brings to the table for OKC, but it’s something that the Thunder don’t really have. Serge Ibaka is a great enforcer that can swat shots, but Ibaka isn’t as capable of straight defending a post scorer like Jefferson one-on-one. Plus, Aldrich has extremely good rebounding instincts.
He’s not going to be a player that really blows you away with big numbers, but he can certainly impact a game with his presence. It’s a small start for Aldrich and Scott Brooks is bringing him along slowly, but as he gets a better feel, Aldrich will find his place to make a difference on this team.