The little used Cole Aldrich had a surprisingly quiet season last year for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Karl-Anthony Towns. Gorgui Dieng. Jordan Hill. All three are Minnesota Timberwolves’ bigs that share a role with Cole Aldrich. The first two are mainstays in the starting lineup and take most of the minutes. And Hill’s per 36 numbers look significantly better than Aldrich’s. So was he really worth signing to a three-year, $22 million contract?
A homecoming for Cole Aldrich
After six years in the NBA, Aldrich returned to his home state of Minnesota. His return couldn’t have come at a worse time regarding the roster of the Wolves. At the start of the 2016-2017 season, the team’s newest star, Towns, was hot off a great start to his NBA career. The front office would also end up extending Gorgui Dieng’s rookie contract only six days after the start of the season. And although the team’s primary center was injured and wouldn’t play a single game over the last season, Aldrich wasn’t able to take his contributions to the next level.
When it comes to basketball, the move back to Minnesota wasn’t the key to saving Aldrich’s career from the path of a role player. But the return did yield positive effects off the court. Just a few months after coming back, Aldrich got together school supplies and backpacks for students in Minneapolis. A classy move from the Minnesota native and a great way to embrace his place on a team that appreciates every bit of love from the fans. Alas, his philanthropic actions have always been more notable than his play.
Cole Aldrich’s lackluster season
Historically, this was one of the worst seasons Aldrich has had in the league. He averaged 1.7 points per game in 8.6 minutes. He also averaged more personal fouls per game (1.4) than assists, blocks, and steals combined (all three at 0.4 per game). When he did see time on the court, he was only an average screen-setter and a below-average roll man. Although he shot over 50 percent from the field, he only took 1.4 shots per game, which may be indicative of his teammates’ trust in his ability to finish.
Beyond last season’s stats, Aldrich failed “the eye test”. He often looked lost on defense. Because of his size and limited athletic ability, he isn’t able to switch onto faster players with any sort of success. He did manage a non-zero impact as a helpside defender, but he really wasn’t able to deter the average backup center one-on-one. When on the court, Aldrich definitely played a role in surrendering many leads (most of which happened in the third quarter). In that regard, he was more of a liability for the Wolves than he was an asset.
It’s not always wise to play the “what if” game, but if Aldrich was a bit younger, and a bit more athletic, he may have been trusted enough to play more minutes.
Now, Aldrich’s per 36 numbers aren’t awful. His statline is more a reflection of Coach Tom Thibodeau’s well-documented strategy of playing his stars a lot of minutes. That being said, with an experienced coach like Thibodeau, it’s clear that Aldrich was never considered to be a major player off the bench at any point during the season.