Can Cole Aldrich Play Real Role for the NY Knicks Next Season?

Fred Katz@@FredKatzFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2014

New York Knicks' Cole Aldrich plays in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wednesday, March 5, 2014, in Minneapolis. The Knicks won 118-106. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Jim Mone/Associated Press

The New York Knicks need a rim protector. Good thing they already have one.

The team that finished 24th in points allowed per possession last season could use major defensive help on the perimeter and in the paint for the upcoming year. But the Knicks defense isn't completely hopeless for 48 minutes. It does have one guy who was possibly underutilized throughout last season: Cole Aldrich.

Aldrich, who re-signed with the Knicks in July, averaged only 7.2 minutes a night last year, getting into just 46 games. He's never played more than 8.6 minutes per game in his four-year career. But it may finally be time for him to get some burn.

The Knicks don't have an abundance of defensive personnel. Going through the roster leaves you wondering exactly how many above-average defenders they have. 

Iman Shumpert is certainly in that category. Samuel Dalembert still has defensive value. Jason Smith does as well, though he can be inconsistent. But is that it? 

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors takes a shot as Cole Aldrich #45 of the New York Knicks defends in the first half during an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on April. 16, 2014 in New York City. The Knicks
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The rest of the roster seems to be far more offensive-minded. But then there's Aldrich, the seldom-played former 11th overall pick who once averaged 5.2 blocks per 40 minutes while wearing blue and white in Lawrence, Kansas. 

At first, Aldrich didn't adapt fluidly to NBA basketball. His offensive game wasn't particularly refined, he got bullied down low and his feet didn't move as quickly as his mind. Now, Aldrich is different.

He's probably never going to live up to what many thought he could be when the Oklahoma City Thunder traded for him on draft night, but with new, reset expectations, Aldrich can help this Knicks team—mainly because he's a plus defender who can play on the back line.

Above all else, Aldrich is a rim protector, the one guy the Knicks have who can honestly retain that title. 

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The four-year vet averaged 3.3 blocks per 36 minutes last season, and swatted 8.1 percent of two-point shot attempts while he was on the floor, a figure that would lead the league by a hefty margin if strung out over enough minutes. And on a team that has just one guy who consistently defends on the perimeter (the Knicks need you, Iman), rim protection is a skill Derek Fisher's squad can't take for granted.

If you're not going to stay in front of ball-handlers, you better have someone behind them. And now, Aldrich can actually go out and attack offensive players.

Often, guys will pop against Aldrich when they set ball-screens. That's on his ability to intimidate at the rim, and the former KU star has become much more adept at closing out on those who do stray from the paint to shoot jumpers against him. 

On this play from last March, he closes out in time on DeMarcus Cousins to force DMC toward the basket. When the guy, who is arguably the most skilled offensive center in the league, penetrates to the hoop, Aldrich stuffs him:

This all starts when Cousins sets a weak screen on Pablo Prigioni during this short pick-and-roll. 


Failing to body up Prigs allows Aldrich, who is a better athlete than he gets credit for, to close out on Cousins once he gets the ball, taking away the 14-footer that he's eyeing.

Cousins is still developing as a passer. His first instinct often tells him to score. Once Aldrich takes away the shot, he knows Boogie is going right and stays in front of him for as long as he should.

Aldrich is quick enough to keep his chest squared to Cousins, but once he gets to the restricted area, he halts—as Cousins leaves his feet—and goes for the block:


This is what the great shot blockers do. DeAndre Jordan is the king of this style, which can be high-risk, leading to fouls if executed poorly considering it involves pendulum-like arm swinging. But if a guy has the ability to wait for the scorer to make the first move, that's how to get blocks in these scenarios. 

Cousins' feet leave the floor before Aldrich's, not only showing the Knicks center's ability to understand tendencies and fundamentals but also displaying an underrated athleticism, an ability to end his momentum as he gets to the restricted area and propel forward to stuff a dominant player at the rim. It's a skill that is valuable in a backup center, and one that Dalembert, Smith, Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire don't possess.

The Knicks defense needs Aldrich for that reason alone. Add in an 18.6 percent career rebound rate, in line with those of Chandler, Tim Duncan and Kevin Love, and throwing Aldrich into the rotation should be a no-brainer, considering the Knicks' struggles on the glass. 

It may not seem like he can sway their season, but for 15-plus minutes a night, Aldrich can alter an opponent's offensive execution more than any other big on the Knicks' roster. It'd be foolish to let that go unnoticed for a second consecutive year.

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com, WashingtonPost.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of August 20 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.