Cole Aldrich and Jon Leuer may have different games, but they followed similar NBA paths.
Aldrich, in his seventh season, is the Wolves’ backup center, having signed a three-year, $22 million deal in the offseason. He has become a key part of an increasingly efficient Wolves bench.
Leuer, in his sixth season, is having a career year with the Pistons, who signed him to a four-year, $42 million deal in the offseason.
Both played for multiple teams trying to find the right spot. Both had Development League stints. Both are from Minnesota — Aldrich played at Bloomington Jefferson, Leuer at Orono. They played against each other in high school, with each other in AAU ball and worked out together in the offseason. Their houses are a quarter mile apart.
“We’ve had to grind it out to get where we’re at,” Leuer said. “We have a lot of respect for each other, because there were times when it wasn’t easy.’’
Wolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau clearly targeted Aldrich over the summer. As did Stan Van Gundy — who holds both roles with the Pistons — with Leuer.
Van Gundy was a fan of Leuer’s for years, believing the versatile forward would flourish if given consistent minutes. Detroit looked at Leuer two years ago. This summer, the Pistons finally got him. He is averaging 26.6 minutes, 10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists, all career highs. None of it is surprising to Van Gundy, who likes Leuer’s ability to switch on smaller defenders on the pick-and-roll and his ability to stretch defenses with his shot.
“I knew it was going to be a good system for me, that there would be a god opportunity for me to play,” Leuer said. “But nothing is guaranteed. You have to come in and prove yourself and earn minutes in any new situation. That’s what my mind-set was, that’s what I came here to do.’’
Aldrich has become the rim defender the Wolves were looking for off the bench.
“We’ve worked out together for three, four years,’’ Aldrich said. “It’s always nice to come back and catch up. We work out and have fun.’’
Rice Lake West
Hundreds of folks from Rice Lake, Wis., made the two-hour drive to Target Center to see Henry Ellenson play for Detroit. Rice Lake High School rescheduled its boys’ and girls’ basketball games to Saturday so people could make the trip.
Ellenson is in his rookie season with the Pistons after playing one season at Marquette. Detroit took him with the draft’s 18th pick.
It’s been a learning experience for the 6-11 Ellenson, who appeared in five of the Pistons’ first 24 games. He’s already had one Development League stint and could have another. But for Ellenson, who played at Target Center two years ago as part of the Timberwolves Shootout while at Rice Lake, it’s been a dream come true. “It’s basketball, 24-7,’’ he said. “That’s what I’ve always wanted, to be focused on my game, getting better.’’
Ellenson and Van Gundy both said the rookie needs to get stronger, work on his range and on defense.
“When he fills out and gets stronger, I think he’ll be a hell of a player in this league,’’ Van Gundy said.
• Detroit was one of the many stops Thibodeau made during his season out of the league. Among the things he took away was how Van Gundy handled the dual role of running the team and coaching it. “I wanted to see what some of the challenges would be,’’ Thibodeau said.
• Nemanja Bjelica missed Friday’s game with a sore right ankle.