After winning an NCAA national championship as a sophomore and being an All-American as a junior, several NBA teams were salivating at the skill set he could bring to the table. Unlike college scoring averages and steals, which may or may not pan out at the next level, rebounding averages and blocks per game translate pretty well to how a player will perform in the league. Those were Cole’s best numbers. With those abilities, it was expected he could eventually move into the role currently held by Nick Collison.
Less than a month into his rookie season, Aldrich might already be a draft bust.
After a pathetic nine minutes against Philadelphia on Nov. 10, in which he picked up four fouls and turned the ball over three times, Aldrich stopped suiting up for games. Well, technically he started literally suiting up for games, wearing a sport coat and tie while cheering on the players who were on the active roster. Many fans assumed he was nursing an injury, but it soon became apparent that Coach Scott
Brooks had determined Cole to be the least effective player on the team. He was shipped to the Thunder D-League affiliate by Nov. 24.
Being sent to the NBDL is not necessarily a kiss of death, but it certainly is not a good omen. The D-League’s strength seems to be allowing NBA teams to evaluate players that were missed in the draft process. Secondrounders who could not make the team and skilled players who were unnoticed by scouts tend to be the success stories the NBDL touts.
For instance, former Tulsa resident Kelenna Azubuike was undrafted from the University of Kentucky, but got a shot in the NBA after playing well for the Fort Worth Flyers. He’s since been a solid player for Golden State and now New York.
The other purpose of the league, however, is to act as a talent developer of players who are not yet ready to log significant playing time with the big club — much like major league baseball uses its minor league system. That’s why Presti assigned Aldrich to the Tulsa 66ers, but finding first-round picks that have returned to the NBA as even marginal players is difficult.
More often than not, being sent down is the indication that team executives are admitting they blew the draft pick and they do not want that player’s bad play to infect the rest of the team. Over the past few years, several high lottery picks have gone to the D-League in advance of not having their contracts renewed.
The flip side is that a couple of late first-rounders, buried on the bench of title contenders, like former Laker Jordan Farmar, have spent time in the NBDL and broken into the team’s player rotation later. That could be Aldrich’s fate. Or, he could already be finished in the NBA. It is worth noting that the GM brass signed Collison, the guy Aldrich is being groomed to replace, to a four-year extension soon after the demotion.