Could Cole Aldrich be the Clippers’ missing piece?


After bringing back DeAndre Jordan from his almost certain departure to the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Clippers’ offseason has taken a remarkable turn for the better. In fact, the only weakness and major missing piece they’ve had until this week is having no backup center since losing Spencer Hawes in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets to acquire Lance Stephenson.

Of course the Clippers aren’t impenetrable, though, and their bench could still be better if they were lucky enough to have more cap space. For a start, another backup big to replace Glen Davis would be a real upgrade. But with extremely limited funds, they can’t exactly afford to pick-and-choose when it comes to free agency.

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That being said, the only primary player for their rotation they’ve been missing until the last couple of days has been a backup center.

Seeing as Hawes did little more than miss three pointers and fail to defend this year, his absence only really helps the Clippers. Especially as they’ve now been able to sign a new backup center on a two-year deal to support Jordan: former New York Knick, Cole Aldrich.

With the Knicks this season, Aldrich played the biggest role of his career. Yes, that’s hardly a compliment (because, well, it’s the Knicks), but he still proved himself to be a noteworthy backup center. He played 16 minutes per game (the highest mark of his career) whilst starting 16, and as a result he averaged career-highs across the board.

In terms of offensive ability, Cole Aldrich doesn’t have a lot to offer. Yet points aren’t what the Clippers need him for at all. As any fan knows by now, the Clippers can score in an instant. They led the league in offensive efficiency this year with 109.8 points per 100 possessions and no backup center is going to change that.

And with the addition of Paul Pierce to replace Matt Barnes, the Clippers have gained a better shooter to add to their plethora of offensive talent. Meaning that pretty much all Aldrich needs to do in L.A. is be aggressive with offensive put-backs, post-up to a reasonable degree on the rare occasion he needs to, rebound, and protect the paint.

Thankfully for the Clippers, those are areas where Cole Aldrich can be very effective.

His 16 minutes per game with the Knicks this season is a similar role he can expect to enjoy with the Clippers, and when looking at his production per 36 minutes, he could really make each minute count behind Blake Griffin and Jordan.

Per 36 minutes, Aldrich averaged 12.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks this year. He’s a fairly agile defender for a player weighing in at 6’11” and 250 lbs, and can protect the rim as a help defender or when guarding bigs in the post. He only allowed opponents to shoot 51.4 percent at this rim this year, which isn’t that far off the mark of All-Defensive first team member DeAndre Jordan (48.5).

What’s even more impressive about Aldrich’s defensive ability is that when guarding opponents from within 6 feet of the basket, he held them to a field goal percentage that was -3.6 percent lower than their season average from the same distance (per’s player tracking). Even though it isn’t the biggest margin, it still shows that players had a tough time when attacking the basket against him. And seeing as Aldrich will only need to play around 15 minutes or so for the Clippers this year, that kind of interior presence is exactly what they need in short bursts.

Add on his stellar total rebounding percentage of 20 (Jordan, the 2014-15 rebound leader, was only slightly ahead with a TRB percentage of 24.5 this year) and it’s clear that Aldrich can make a difference as a defensive backup in ways that Hawes never could.

Offensively, Aldrich is fairly limited. He has a relatively effective hook shot after making them at a 45.3 percent rate this year and also made 69.5 percent of his shots within three feet. But seeing as he won’t need to be used an a top second unit option, some offensive put-backs will be enough to keep Doc Rivers and company happy. So after his 3.7 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes this year, Aldrich should be able to do exactly what the Clippers need him to.

And to help accommodate for Jordan’s horrible 39.7 percent free throw shooting, he can even come in to be efficient from the line if necessary, after making 78.1 percent of his free throws this season.

Dec 10, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; New York Knicks center Cole Aldrich (45) shoots the ball over San Antonio Spurs power forward Jeff Ayres (11) during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

After ranking only 15th in defensive efficiency and 16th in rebounding rate this year, the Clippers have had two key weaknesses to address this offseason.

With Lance Stephenson, they’ve added athleticism, rebounding and a player with more potential than the recently departed Matt Barnes. Along with Wesley Johnson, they’ve added even more athleticism, three point shooting and wing depth. With a new starting small forward in Paul Pierce, though, L.A. have a new kind of mental toughness, veteran leadership and a late-fourth quarter option to take some of the pressure off Chris Paul and Griffin.

In terms of their frontcourt, rookie Branden Dawson can serve as an incredibly athletic, defensive power forward to provide far more energy off the bench than Glen Davis. And now with Cole Aldrich, they’ve acquired a backup center — the role player that they desperately needed. Again, their bench obviously isn’t perfect. But they’ve taken several big steps in the right direction.

Obviously he won’t suddenly emerge as the Clippers’ newfound saviour to take them past the second round, but he’s still filled a gaping hole in their team. More importantly, he adds even more defense and rebounding to a team in need of both.

That is why after such a successful offseason so far, Cole Aldrich may be the final missing piece to this rapidly improving Clippers team.

Next: With DeAndre Jordan's return, the Clippers are stronger than ever