Tuesday night’s win for Tennessee basketball against the Kentucky Wildcats has everybody talking about Jonas Aidoo. With Olivier Nkamhoua out for the season, the question was who could occupy the stretch-four spot, and Aidoo seemed to fit that bill over Brandon Huntley-Hatfield.
Both players were a mix in recruiting ratings, being a four-star or a five-star across different services. Aidoo, however, came off the bench in this one and then came away with three blocks in the game, so his play as a true freshman warranted celebration.
However, don’t count on the idea that he can replace Nkamhoua just yet. Aidoo doesn’t bring everything to the table Nkamhoua brought for Tennessee basketball, and doing one thing right in a win against a top five team isn’t going to change that.
Outside of his ability to contest shots, we could bring up the fact that he only had five points. That would be unfair, though, as the stretch-four’s role in Rick Barnes’ system isn’t to be the leading scorer in the paint. There’s one other issue: rebounding.
Aidoo’s size at 6’11” 234 pounds should make him an elite rebounder, but against Kentucky, he got wrecked on the boards. The only real negative for UT in that win is that the Wildcats outrebounded them 40-32 despite missing way more shots from the field.
It all came down to offensive rebounds, as Kentucky had 18 to UT’s six. Of those 18 offensive rebounds, Aidoo was on the court for 13 of them, and four of them were directly his fault. Now, to be fair, Uros Plavsic and Huntley-Hatfiled allowed two in the early minutes, so they’re no better.
In fact, given Aidoo’s three offensive rebounds and seven rebounds overall, he’s probably better than both. Also, five offensive rebounds by UK were on Fulkerson, and Aidoo is definitely as better rebounder than him. However, to properly be Nkamhoua’s replacement, Aidoo himself has to be a better rebounder.
That may not be a fair assessment, but if Aidoo is going to become the feature stretch-four, he has to bring a rebounding edge to the table. Power forward is really the only position Rick Barnes has to be able to rebound at a high level.
What we saw against Kentucky was a player who couldn’t always get great positioning and would get bullied out of the way at times he did. There was one rebound on Aidoo in which Oscar Tshiebwe clearly went over his back, but that wouldn’t have even been possible had he gone up for the ball at the right time.
This is why Barnes is still best-off playing small ball for most of the game. Josiah-Jordan James at the four is a better rebounder than Aidoo at the moment. If James gets in foul trouble, though, as he did against UK, the Vols could still be in trouble. They’ll have no rebounding options.
Sure, Aidoo’s three blocks were nice. He’s clearly a good enough defender to fill Nkamhoua’s shoes. However, rebounding is the other key component to be able to play the stretch four with the way Tennessee basketball is constructed. It’s obvious that’s a weakness in his game right now.