After impressively debuting in ten-plus minutes of play in the Thunder's third game of the season, Cole Aldrich looked like he was ready to burrow his way into consistent playing time for Oklahoma City (11-5).
But soon after, this was proven not to be the case.
Maybe his initial performance can be credited to the fact that he saw his first NBA action on his birthday, which just also happens to be Halloween. Let's be honest, some 22-year-olds still go trick-or-treating and it isn't out of the question that Aldrich was on a sugar rush when he had that memorable putback slam against the Jazz on the Oct. 31.
Unfortunately he has yet to find the bottom of the net since then in nearly 40 minutes of play, which needless to say the Thunder found "spooky".
So they sent him down to the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA Development League this past Wednesday.
“Cole is a big part of our future and right now wasn’t seeing a lot of playing time,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
“This just gives him an opportunity to go to Tulsa and play. We’ll work with him. We’ll still go there as much as we can to help him practice and watch games.”
On the bright side for the 22-year-old, his NBA career is less than a month old. And the list of successful players who have been assigned to the D-League during their first or second season, while not overly impressive, definitely offers hope for young Cole. Aaron Brooks, Andray Blatche, Martell Webster and Ramon Sessions were all in his boat at one point in their careers.
None of those guys even sniffed the lottery portion of the draft, meaning Brooks and GM Sam Presti will likely be extra patient with the development of Aldrich, the 11th overall pick this past June.
Sending him down to Tulsa does seem like the obvious move at this point; Aldrich hasn't logged any minutes since Nov. 11 and appears to have no room to move up in the depth chart. Nenad Krstic (7.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) likely won't be sticking around for too long (perhaps even after this season - he'll be a free agent at season's end) so it's clear that management envisions Aldrich as the center of the future despite inking 30-year-old backup Nick Collison to a four-year extension on Tuesday.
For now, the Thunder will keep a close watch on him during his Tulsa-time and look to see if he can manage the beast-like stats of 11 points, 10 rebounds, and nearly 3.5 blocks per game he posted his junior year at Kansas, the reason Presti traded for him on draft day to begin with.
While he's buried on the chart behind Krystic and Collison and just barely above second-year Byron Mullens, it makes sense to get Aldrich the playing time he needs to continue his development, albeit at a lower-level.
In two games with Tulsa thus far, Aldrich is averaging nine points, six rebounds, one block, and 5.5 personal fouls in 21 minutes of play. Work is definitely needed for the 6'11' big man but he's in the right place to get it.
As a reminder, rookies and second-year players are the only members on NBA rosters permitted to play in the D-League. A player is allowed a maximum of three assignments per season. He very well could go back and forth between both teams a few times as he gets more playing time under his belt.
Before long, Aldrich should be back on his horse, back in OKC, and ready to contribute.
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