While a segment of fans and media members have long viewed a defensive player like Aldrich as a key missing piece, Aldrich said he doesn't feel a burden.
"I don't think there's any pressure at all," Aldrich said. "If anybody has followed me a little bit, (they know) I just play really hard. That's just my game and that's kind of how I've grown up, defensive-minded."
But all signs are starting to point to the Thunder bringing Aldrich along slowly.
Big men typically take longer to develop than guards, and Aldrich has always been viewed as more of a long-term prospect than one who will pay major dividends immediately. Aldrich also hasn't played a high level of 5-on-5 since his college season ended in March. He missed summer league in Orlando because the trade with New Orleans couldn't officially be completed until July 8, and he was sidelined most of the summer after undergoing treatment on his legs.
For now, it appears the most likely route for Aldrich will be a similar one taken by Ibaka during his rookie year. Ibaka played sparingly in much of the first month before earning more time as the season progressed. But Ibaka had proven by last season's open scrimmage that he possessed natural abilities that Brooks couldn't afford to keep off the floor. In Aldrich's case, his ticket to court time might be in his savvy.
Aldrich said he's familiarizing himself with new concepts and schemes in the NBA, as well as adjusting to simpler things such as spacing, the defensive three-second rule and the increased speed and strength of professional players.
But his coach says he's handling things well.
"I think his basketball IQ is very good," Brooks said. "But it's only been (a handful of) days. I'll get a true indication later in the month. I like what he's doing. He's progressing very well."