With the Thunder signing 7-3 big man Hasheem Thabeet, it certainly appears to signal the end of Nazr Mohammed’s time in Oklahoma City. As I said, it’s a very wise move in terms of upside, money and risk management.
But I’m not at all excited about the guy I once called Hasheem Thabust.
I’m excited about what it means for Cole Aldrich.
It’s going to be a big summer for Aldrich. He’s getting his missing tooth fixed (he told me this is actually the second attempt at it), he’s playing in Summer League, he’s probably going to be doing some random stuff in Minnesota and almost assuredly, he’s becoming a full-time rotation player for an NBA Finals team.
Aldrich, the 11th overall pick in 2010, has only played 44 total games and 315 total minutes in two seasons. He’s spent most of his young NBA career traveling between Tulsa and OKC, orchestrating a detailed gum ritual before games or kicking his leg out after made Thunder 3-pointers. His most major contributions, other than his stellar 3-point celebration and personality in general, have been his obligatory putback dunks to punctuate blowout wins.
Now though, it’s time for him to make a real impact. The backup role is going to be his and his alone, as it’s pretty unlikely that Thabeet pushes him for time. Not that Mohammed was a key rotational piece for the Thunder, but he saw 10-15 minutes a game, was part of one of the league’s best second units and was a good insurance policy for Kendrick Perkins, who has been bitten by injury quite a bit.
I’ve already had a number of people tweet or email about Aldrich, essentially laughing him off. Don’t mistake a guy being a bust or worthless with him just not having an opportunity. The NBA has rapidly evolved into a “”progress now!” kind of league with fans and media expecting results from high draft picks immediately. Immediate production, immediate contribution. The Thunder don’t operate that way. They have absolutely no problem with well-paced development, steady progress and patience. Patience still a virtue around OKC’s practice facility, and that’s with a team that just went to the NBA Finals.
You saw what happened with Byron Mullens once he finally saw time in Charlotte after OKC traded him there. He wasn’t a star by any stretch, but he wasn’t some seven-foot joke either. He could play. Just with the Thunder, he didn’t have the chance.
It’s just Aldrich’s third season. He’s only 23. Look at Perk’s first two years in Boston: He played 10 games as a rookie, 60 as a second year player, averaging just 9.1 minutes that second season. His third year, he played in 68, averaging 19.6 minutes. Or Tyson Chandler, who averaged 6.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks as a rookie and 9.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks as a sophomore. Samuel Dalembert 1.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.4 bpg in 34 games as a rookie. Marcin Gortat: 3.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.4 bpg in 72 total games his first two seasons. Hasheem Thabeet: Wait, bad example.
Anyway, you get the point. Making a determination on a player after two seasons in the NBA when his career will likely span at least 10, is kind of silly. Especially when it’s a player that essentially been in development the past two seasons, not playing simply because there really isn’t a great place for him yet.
Aldrich can play. Just because you haven’t seen him play doesn’t mean he can’t. He’s got some ability. He’s long, has really good instincts on the glass, plays physical, has some athleticism, can run the floor really well, sets good screens and actually has a little bit of touch in the post. He probably should’ve seen more minutes last season.I mentioned this last night, but watching Aldrich work on his game in warmups left me impressed. He’s not ever going to be a pick-and-pop candidate because of that funky shooting motion, but in terms of lobs, putbacks and a few dump-down post plays, he can add a few points.
The fact he’s looked out of control and a bit lost at times on the floor while fouling as if you get two points for each one is probably what concerns people most about him. But it’s hard to get a feel for the game when you play three minutes of garbage time at the end of a blowout and nothing else. Get in a routine where he knows his time on the floor, has a feel for his role and understands the speed and pace of the action and I think you’ll see a much more under control player.
A lot of people — myself included — felt Aldrich should probably be seeing time ahead of Mohammed last season. Mohammed is a savvy veteran post man that passed well, could hit a little jumper, defend the post adequately and basically just do his job for four minutes at a time. You weren’t getting anything other than that. So let’s not act like Mohammed was some kind of incredible backup big man. He was decent enough, but not an impactful player. Aldrich could be.
Plus, there’s always the future to consider. With cap issues facing the Thunder and one potential solution on the table being the Amnesty Perk Plan, grooming Aldrich for that position could pay massive dividends in the future. Aldrich is signed through 2014 for a total just under $8 million. That’s what Perk makes next season alone. If Aldrich blossoms and provides everything that Perk does, which I don’t think is at all unreasonable, the Thunder might’ve found their bailout option.
Obviously, I’m only assuming Aldrich is ready. I think people are going to find themselves impressed with his play in Orlando during Summer League. And when you continue to keep in mind what his role is, I think he’s going to fill it fine. He’s not about to be a 35-minute-a-night starting 5. He’s going to be a big body with six fouls to give that can rebound, set screens and put back misses. Only now, those putbacks won’t be a ceremonial victory cigar. They’re going to mean something.