Clippers’ Cole Aldrich is a perfect defensive addition at center


Dec 27, 2014; Sacramento, CA, USA; New York Knicks center Cole Aldrich (45) prepares to shoot the ball against the Sacramento Kings in the second quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

After losing Spencer Hawes in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets to land Lance Stephenson, the Los Angeles Clippers were without a backup center till they signed Cole Aldrich. It wasn’t just a desperate signing to complete their roster, though, because Aldrich can have the kind of defensive impact that Hawes never could. And that’s exactly what the Clippers need more than anything else: defense.

This season, they ranked just 15th in defensive efficiency and 16th in rebounding rate. And whilst their league leading offense made up for their average performance at the other end of the floor, it’s still the fundamental aspect of their team that needed immediate attention.

That’s what Doc Rivers has done this offseason, and the signings of Josh Smith, Cole Aldrich and Branden Dawson should all be key in adding some defensive toughness. In addition to the Clippers’ new signings, the departure of Spencer Hawes is a welcome change, too.

Mainly because of his poor +/- of -14.4 this year, which just so happens to be a result of his apparent inability to defend now. And the fact he didn’t work out as a stretch big man either made his presence not only redundant, but detrimental.

Apr 14, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Hedo Turkoglu (left) and guard Jordan Hamilton (right) help pick up forward Spencer Hawes from the ground against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This year, Hawes’ role was limited. Seeing as the Clippers had an All-NBA third team and All-Defensive first team caliber center in the form of DeAndre Jordan, it’s hardly surprising Hawes experienced little playing time (only 17.5 minutes per game in the regular season and a mere 7.1 in the playoffs). Yet, when you look into what he did (didn’t) do when he was on the floor, the signing of Cole Aldrich as the Clippers’ new backup center looks even better.

Hawes averaged 5.8 points on 39.3 percent shooting, 3.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.3 steals and 0.7 blocks per game this year. His numbers aren’t going to be incredible due to his limited playing time, but even when converting his production to his averages per 36 minutes, the tale of Hawes’ 2014-15 campaign still doesn’t improve.

In that time frame, Hawes still only averaged 12 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. The blocks average isn’t terrible, although one simple stat doesn’t make him a good interior defender by any means. Not to mention his poor rebounding percentage of 11.4 was nearly doubled by Aldrich this year, who recorded a mark of exactly 20 percent.

In addition to his impressive rebounding percentage, Aldrich also showed up Hawes with his per 36 minutes averages of 12.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.

So, when remembering the Clippers’ primary weaknesses (defense, rebounding, and some general gritty play), it’s hard to find fault with Aldrich stepping in to replace Hawes. And on top of all the previous statistics, Aldrich also lowered the offensive rating of the Knicks’ opponents this season whenever he was on the floor (by a slight 1.1). Hawes, meanwhile, raised the offensive rating of opponents by 2.4.

It’s not an incredible difference, but the only thing you need to remember is that Aldrich made a defensive difference in the paint on a consistent basis (a statement that could never be made about Hawes this year).

That could have been compensated for if he spaced the floor effectively with the Clippers, though, which was his primary role above anything else. Yet, after making just 0.8 threes per game at a 31.3 percent rate (a decrease of 13.5 percent from the previous season), it’s safe to say the experiment of using Hawes as a shooting center didn’t work out.

And as the only shooting Aldrich will need to do will be from the free throw line, his career average of 78 percent will go a long way in helping the Clippers maintain some efficiency alongside Jordan’s dismal 39.7 percent stroke from the charity stripe.

Dec 28, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) drives past New York Knicks center Cole Aldrich (45) during the fourth quarter of the game at Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. The Trail Blazers won 101-79. Mandatory Credit: Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Statistics aside, though, the real reason why Cole Aldrich is a perfect upgrade at center for the Clippers is because he fills a need. Hawes never really offered anything to L.A.’s offense, and he was instantly harmful to their defense whenever he came in for Jordan.

When the Clippers’ All-Defensive first team center was on the bench this year, they went from having an average lead of 11.8 points per 100 possessions with him, to trailing by 3.6 points without him. That was largely due to the Clippers’ lack of depth and the negative impact of Hawes and Glen Davis as frontcourt backups.

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Now, however, Aldrich can step in to give the Clippers some more size, strength and general defensive toughness.

With Jordan playing 34.4 minutes per game, Aldrich doesn’t need to do much. The Clippers operate at full force when DeAndre is flying around the paint at both ends of the court and terrorizing opponents through the air with his rebounding and ferocious dunks. It’s been vital in turning the Clippers into a team who can win 56 games with ease.

But with Aldrich playing around 10-15 minutes each night, their defense will no longer fall apart as soon as Jordan takes a seat. He possesses great instincts and reactions for a lumbering, 6’11” big man, and uses his size to more effect than any of the Clippers’ role players from last season.

Aldrich isn’t the best two way backup big in the league, but he doesn’t need to be. For a Clippers team in need of defense and rebounding, he’s the perfect option for only $1.1 million.

He can give the Clippers what they need and nothing more. Which is all Doc Rivers had to find to give his team some extra firepower to help take them past the second round.

Next: Three reasons why the Clippers should keep Jamal Crawford