Better Choice for Knicks: Jason Smith or Cole Aldrich?

One thing is for certain, when a team in a huge market like the New York Knicks, endures through a 17-65 season, a lot of changes will be made the following season. With free agency to begin on July 1 at midnight ET, the Knicks figure to be very active in trying to convince free agents to join the fold.

While a lot of change for the Knicks is likely and needed, they will most likely need to keep a few of their role players from last season. The Knicks will look to address their frontcourt, and may look to two of their players from last season to help fortify it: Cole Aldrich and Jason Smith.

While both players are similar in stature (Smith is listed at 7-0 240 lbs., Aldrich is listed at 6-11 245 lbs.), the two have different skill sets. Which one would be the better fit for the Knicks next season?

(Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jason Smith played his first season with the Knicks last season, with a salary of $3.28 million. He appeared in all 82 games for the Knicks last season (31 starts), averaging 8.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 0.5 blocks on the season. Smith was able to stay away from injuries, after a couple injury-ravaged seasons, which saw him miss the entire 2008-09 season, and only play in 31 games for the New Orleans Hornets in the 2013-14 season.

Smith’s main strength is his midrange game, which is important for a big man in the triangle offense. According to basketball-reference.com, 44.3% of Smith’s field goal attempts were from at least 16 feet from the basket and inside the 3-point line, while only 14.5% were from within three feet. He shot 43.5% from his attempts from at least 16 feet, which is right around the 44.2% from that distance in his career.

Cole Aldrich was in uniform with the Knicks for his second season with the team last season, appearing in 61 games (16 starts), with averages of 5.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.1 blocks for the season. Aldrich received much more playing time than he had the previous season, nearly tripling his total minutes played (976 to 330).

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Aldrich does most of his work down low, as according to basketball-reference.com, 34.9% of his field goal attempts were within three feet of the basket, and 92% of his field goal attempts were within ten feet. In spite of doing most of his offensive work close to the basket, he has proven to be a good foul shooter as a member of the Knicks, making 76 of his 94 attempts (80.9%) in his two seasons with the team.

Those numbers alone show how different Smith and Aldrich’s offensive games are. Aldrich has a post game, while Smith thrives from midrange.

Last season, Smith put up averages of 13.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 0.9 blocks per 36 minutes. In the same per 36 minute average, Aldrich put up averages of 12.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 2.4 blocks.

Those numbers clearly show that Aldrich is the far superior rebounder and shot-blocker. While Smith would seem to be the better offensive player, he averaged less than a point more than Aldrich on a per 36 minute basis.

While it is evident that Smith’s offensive game is better suited for the triangle offense as he is better at helping to space the floor, the Knicks have been linked to free agents David West and Greg Monroe. Both of those players also thrive from mid-range on the offensive game, so if one of the two (or both) are signed by the Knicks, it may create less of a need for Smith.

Also like Smith, West and Monroe are not true shot-blocking threats as big men, something Aldrich can be. The Knicks may have a need for shot-blocking, especially if the fourth overall selection in the draft, 19-year old Kristaps Porzingis, is not ready to play a large role right away. If that is the case, it could be prudent for the Knicks to look to re-sign Aldrich to a fairly cheap 1-year deal.

A lot is contingent on what the Knicks do in free agency as to who would be the better fit on the roster, Smith or Aldrich. Both players have showed they can be solid options off the bench, and spot starts when injuries happen.

Of course, there is also the chance that neither is re-signed. Going 17-65 should leave a bad taste in the mouths of everyone in the Knicks organization, so there may be a minimal amount of Knicks on this season’s team that were on last season’s as well. If late in free agency though, the Knicks are still looking for another big man off the bench, it would be wise to take a look at bringing either Smith or Aldrich back.

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