Cole Aldrich, nearly four years after being drafted in lottery, gets double-double in first career start

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BOSTON – As a swarm of media enclosed Cole Aldrich, the playful calls began from his teammates in the less-crowded areas of the New York Knicks locker room.

“Cole Stoudemire!”

“Cole Chandler!”

Aldrich could hardly contain his smile as he discussed his first career start with larger-than-usual-for-him audience. Without the Knicks’ highly paid big men, Amar’e Stoudemire (personal reasons) and Tyson Chandler) (recovery), Aldrich posted 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in New York’s 116-92 win over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday.

Just four years ago, Aldrich was the No. 11 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. After being acquired by the Thunder on draft night, Oklahoma City threw him into the James Harden trade before last season began. A few months later, the Rockets pawned him off to the Kings in the Thomas Robinson trade. Before this season, he signed an unguaranteed contract with the Knicks.

Wednesday, he got the game ball.

“We know how much work guys like that put in, guys like Cole put in,” said Carmelo Anthony, who scored 34 points. “We’re with him every day. We know how hard he works. And for him to have this opportunity tonight and be a big part of our team’s success tonight, it’s a good thing to see.”

Like Melo, Knicks coach Mike Woodson made no effort to hide his delight in the big man’s big night.

“Guys want to play. They complain they don’t get minutes and don’t get shots. I think, when you’re trying to build a team, guys have got to understand it’s not about who’s getting all the shots. It’s not about who’s playing all the minutes. It’s what you do with the minutes and what you’re doing when you’re in there,” Woodson said. “…I’m just happy for him, because he’s patiently waited all season and never once complained and just went about his business. And it paid off for him.”

When Aldrich made a free throw fewer than five minutes into the game, that eclipsed what was his season-long scoring average (0.9). He probably stretched the limits of his offensive game against Boston.

But his impressive rebounding could be sustainable.

Entering Wednesday, nobody had posted a higher rebounding percentage (23.9) in as many minutes (139). Though that’s a small sample, it matches his coach’s eye test.

“He can rebound out of his space, in his space. He takes up space,” Woodson said. “He’s got great hands.”

For Aldrich, there’s no secret formula to rebounding.

“I’ve always been a big kid when I was little, and that was kind of my job as a big kid, just having that hard-headed desire to come out and snag those,” Aldrich said.

Perhaps, Aldrich has an opportunity to get his wayward NBA career back on track. Will he snag that, too?