Rookie Aldrich Picking Things Up Quickly

Cole Aldrich has appeared in four games for a total of 39 minutes, and for each minute he’s been on the floor, the Thunder rookie said he’s becoming just a little bit more comfortable with the pro game.

“I’m starting to find little niches where I can help the team, just setting good picks and being the hustle guy,” Aldrich said. “I think that’s really what’s going to help us out a lot.”

The hustle part was evident within 42 seconds of his NBA debut, when Aldrich bum-rushed the rim to slam home a teammate's missed shot for his first career basket last Sunday against the Utah Jazz. While it might not show in the box score, Aldrich has gone on to hold his own against veteran big men, battling the likes of Utah’s Al Jefferson, the L.A. Clippers’ Chris Kaman and DeAndre Jordan, and Boston’s Kevin Garnett, while giving the Thunder another big body who can contest shots, clog the middle and rebound.

With forward Jeff Green sidelined on Sunday, Aldrich played a career-high 14 minutes against the Celtics. Aldrich is averaging 1.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 9.8 minutes a game, but Head Coach Scott Brooks said he isn’t judging Aldrich on statistics.

“I need a physical presence, a screen-setter and a ball-mover and he’s able to do that,” Brooks said. “The minutes, I don’t look at point production. I look at how the minutes are played. Is he setting screens, is he running the offense, is he getting back on defense? Like any other rookie, there’s a learning curve of who you’re guarding, what the opponent does, what the team does and he’s no different. But I think he picks things up fairly quick.”

Aldrich, who at times has played alongside veteran Nenad Krstic or second-year forward Serge Ibaka, said that when he’s on the bench he’s picking the brains of some veteran teammates while trying to gauge the flow of the game, from how each team is defending pick-and-rolls to who is and who is not hitting the boards for rebounds.

“I would just say (the biggest adjustment) is seeing the play develop before it does,” Aldrich said. “I think that’s probably the biggest adjustment between college and the NBA. Yeah, the guys are quicker, faster and stronger but they’re just that more knowledgeable of the game and know how to break down defensive schemes.”

Ever since he was acquired by the Thunder, Aldrich said his main goal is to make a difference both on the defensive end and from doing the intangibles. One area Aldrich said he’s taken pride in is setting good, solid screens. Brooks noted in training camp and the preseason how Aldrich did a good job of getting a body on an opponent, which he’s carried over to his first four games.

The key to setting a good screen, Aldrich said, is “just getting low. Just making sure that you have a low base and a strong body because once they hit you, you have to go up and physically get them before they run and hit you and knock you over.”

Setting hard screens is something that can often go overlooked, which is why Aldrich said he likes to utilize his 6-foot-11, 245-pound frame to the best of his ability.

“I take pride in doing that just because I know if I can free those guys up it helps our offense a lot more,” he said. “If I could set good screens on Kevin’s guy or Russell’s guy or anyone on the perimeter, it’s really going to help our offense.”

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