To best understand the plight of the 11th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, one must compare Oklahoma City Thunder center Cole Aldrich to his contemporaries.
The playing time differential between Aldrich and others is disturbingly drastic.
Of the 30 first-round picks in 2010, Aldrich has played the fourth fewest minutes.
His 315 minutes rank ahead of only Craig Brackins (121), Elliot Williams (149) and Daniel Orton (187).
It gets worse.
Of the 27 first-round picks in 2011 that have started their NBA careers, Aldrich, in two full seasons, has logged more minutes than just four of last year's rookies.
Hence the significance of summer league, which begins for the Thunder on Monday at noon at the Orlando Pro Summer League. For up-and-coming players like Aldrich, summer league annually provides a chance to do something that sometimes eludes them during the season — play.
“This is a good opportunity for Cole to play a lot of minutes, and we're all excited to see it,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He's as hard of a worker as anybody on our team. It's unfortunate that he hasn't had a lot of opportunities to play in the games, but we have a good team and there were good players in front of him. But his work eventually will pay off.”
Summer league is designed to be another step in the right direction.
The Thunder will play a five-game schedule in the eight-team league, with one game a day through Friday. Rising second-year guard Reggie Jackson, reserve forward Lazar Hayward and 28th overall pick Perry Jones also are competing for the Thunder.
“It's a great opportunity for Perry, Reggie and Cole and all the other guys that are trying to make an impact. It's just another vehicle for them to continue to improve. They didn't get a lot of opportunities this year. But summertime has always been a big period for us to continue to develop our players and get them ready for the upcoming season.
“We've always treated summer league as very important. (It's) going to be a great opportunity for them to go into the rest of the summer and work on the things that we need them to improve on.”
This week won't be bigger for anyone as it will be for Aldrich.
The Thunder traded up to get Aldrich two years ago, sending the 21st and 26th picks to New Orleans for the draft rights to the former Kansas standout. After being banished to the bench, Aldrich's time is now.
With veteran center Nazr Mohammed now an unrestricted free agent and not expected to be re-signed, the primary backup role behind starter Kendrick Perkins belongs to Aldrich.
“I'm real excited,” Aldrich said, “not only for an opportunity to show that I can impact a game and help this team be successful, but just to get on the floor again with those guys.”
Even after two seasons, this will be Aldrich's first taste of summer league action. As a rookie, Aldrich missed summer league after undergoing a medical procedure on his knee. Last year, summer league was canceled due to the lockout.
Both were just a few of the many roadblocks that have kept Aldrich off the court at the start of his career. But Aldrich now sounds ready to seize the moment.
“Everyone has different opportunities. Everyone has different circumstances,” Aldrich said. “You take a grip of your opportunity and your situation, and you just work hard. You know those times are going to come, and when they do you have to take full advantage of them.”
Monday: Thunder vs. Boston; noon
Tuesday: Thunder vs. Indiana; noon
Wednesday: Thunder vs. Detroit; noon
Thursday: Thunder vs. Brooklyn; noon
Friday: Thunder vs. Utah; 7 a.m.
ORLANDO VS. LAS VEGAS
What's the difference between the Orlando Pro Summer League and the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas?
Orlando offers a shorter league with fewer teams. Just eight teams compete over a five-day span in Orlando, with each team playing one game each day to form a 25-game schedule. The league is organized by the Magic, and the event is closed to the general public.
The league in Las Vegas is the NBA's official summer league. It is held over a 10-day span and features 23 NBA teams, as well as one team of D-League players. A total of 60 games will be played in Las Vegas, and the league is open to the public.
The Thunder has opted to compete in Orlando every summer because the league offers a more concise schedule and considerably fewer distractions.
HOW TO WATCH
According to NBA officials, all games will be broadcast on NBA TV. An online package also is available via NBA.com for $14.99. With that package, fans can watch all games in both Orlando and the 60-game schedule in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas from July 13-22 on their laptops, iPhones and iOS tablets. To sign up for the package, visit nba.com/summerleaguebroadband.
SUMMER LEAGUE RULES
3-minute overtime period(s)
Five full timeouts per team per game
Maximum of three full timeouts to be used in the fourth quarter per team.
One 20-second timeout per team per half.
One full timeout and one 20-second timeout per overtime period per team.
Teams will be in the penalty on the fifth team foul of each quarter.
Teams will be in the penalty on the third team foul in overtime.
There is no foul out rule. For each personal foul in excess of six, the opposing team receives two free throws. For each personal foul in excess of 10, the opposing team receives two free throws and the ball.
Halftime is 10 minutes.
Intermission between games is 10 minutes.
Two one-minute mandatory TV timeouts per quarter. The first on the first deadball at 5:59 and then again at 2:59 on the clock.