The 2009 Naismith Preseason POY watch list was recently released. I noticed in the comments section that there were a ton of players mentioned. But the player who is going to win (or the one who should be the choice right now) was only mentioned by one esteemed commenter.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m going to point out right now that I am a rabid Kansas fan. But, given the fact that I’m harder on my teams than probably any fan alive, I think I can be given a pass when I say that Cole Aldrich should be a slam dunk for preseason player of the year.
Let’s start with Aldrich’s main skill: His rebounding. Aldrich leads all major conference returning players in defensive rebounding percentage at 28.5%. In layman’s terms, rebounding percentage is simply the number of a team’s misses said player rebounds. Rebounding percentage, as we all know (or should know) is a much better stat than simply citing rebounding totals. Why? Because rebounding totals are heavily influenced by two major things: the quality of shooters a team has, and the tempo at which they play. Teams that run up and down the floor and have poor shooters will give up many more rebounding opportunities. Kansas was middle of the road tempo wise, and were 30th in 2 point percentage, which is indicative of their true skill, and 63rd in 3 point percentage, which is less so (if the great Sparty lets me, perhaps we’ll get into that at some other time)
Aldrich also rebounded 12.5% of his team’s misses, which is good (2nd in the Big 12), but hardly great. The arguments for why he could get more this year are two-fold. Last year Aldrich was Kansas’s only real big man, and so the Jayhawks focused a lot on getting back into transition defense rather than exposing Aldrich to fouls. When they did try and crash the boards, it was often Aldrich being boxed out by multiple defenders, or being the only Jayhawk under the boards. This year with improvements by the Morris twins, and incoming Freshman Thomas Robinson and Arizona transfer Jeff Withey, there will be plenty of depth to allow Aldrich more free rebounds.
Cole Aldrich was 2nd in major conference players to Jarvis Varnardo in block percentage last year. This is even more incredible when you remember again that he was the only big man for much of the time, so he didn’t want to get in foul trouble. Aldrich does a great job of keeping his body out of the way while going up for blocks. Given how much he improved from his Freshman year to last year in this sense I can only see him improving more.
Offensively, Aldrich is very underrated. He was ranked just behind golden boy Tyler Hansbrough in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) last year. The one knock on Aldrich is that the Kansas offense doesn’t run through him and he gets a lot of his points via put backs and alley oops. But, he does have an impressive mid-range game. He made 60% of his twos last year. The one thing I would like to see Aldrich do more often is draw fouls. He ranked 344th in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Aldrich is a very good free throw shooter, making nearly 80% of his FTs last year.
Although his surface numbers don’t seem too astounding, when you look at them in a context neutral environment it is clear he is a dominant player. Aldrich’s coming out party happened in the 2008 Final Four when he, then a barely used Freshman and 5th big man on Kansas’s depth chart, played 16 minutes, scored 8 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and blocked 4 shots. He also outhustled Hansbrough for a couple of those boards. Then last year he became the first person to have a triple double in the NCAA tournament since Shaq when he had 13 points, 20 rebounds and 11 blocks against Dayton. Although Sherron Collins gets all the ink, Aldrich is Kansas’s best player, and if he improved from last year to this year as much as he improved after his Freshman season, he will be unstoppable in 2009.
Proceed to mock.