The Oklahoma City Thunder started their second week of practice on Monday and head coach Scott Brooks is focusing on the void left by Kendrick Perkins’ offseason groin surgery.
Perkins played injured for most of the end of the regular season and the playoffs. After the Thunder lost to the Miami Heat in the Finals, Perkins quickly went under the knife in hopes of returning 100 percent for the opener this season. However, no center has much of a chance of staying in shape post-surgery, which means Cole Aldrich will be asked to play a more meaningful role.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how they perform in the exhibition season,” Brooks said after practice Monday. “It’s an important role for us. Our big guys are the defensive anchors, they create ball movement and they set screens. That’s what we’re asking Cole and the others to do right now.”
The Thunder traded for Aldrich’s draft rights after the New Orleans Hornets drafted him 11th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft. Since then, Aldrich has spent most of his time on the D-League roster and at the end of Oklahoma City’s bench. He made his playoff debut last year and now looks to take on a more prominent role for the regular season.
“I don’t feel any pressure myself,” Aldrich said after Monday’s practice. “I come in every day and work hard and I’ve gotten a lot better. That’s all you can do.”
The Thunder let go of Nazr Mohammed in the offseason, leaving a spot open at the backup center position. Aldrich is expected to fill the minutes Mohammed left behind, but with most of his experience coming in garbage time, he still has a lot to learn.
“The biggest thing defensively is the pick-and-roll,” Aldrich explained. “Everybody runs them and about 70 percent of all possessions has a pick-and-roll. If you can master that you’re going to be a lot more effective.”
Aldrich said that defending players like Russell Westbrook in practice makes his job in games much easier. Defending the pick-and-roll is pivotal in the NBA. Last season Oklahoma City figured out a way to defend the offense against San Antonio and it ultimately led to their trip to the Finals. Aldrich will be asked to learn the position and the defense quickly, something his teammates aren’t worried about.
“Cole’s been very aggressive,” Daequan Cook said. “His main role is to set screens, roll, rebound and run the floor and he’s been doing a great job and he continues to get better every day. It’s not my spot to say, but I’m ready to see what happens.”