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Portland Trail Blazers Roster Breakdown - Al-Farouq Amin

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Ushering in a new era of Portland Trail Blazers basketball seems to be the theme of the 2015 NBA offseason. The Rip City roster no longer resembles the crew that had back-to-back 50-win seasons over the past two years, but one thing it can hang its hat on is that youth and potential have become the beacons of hope in an otherwise confusing time.

In a 15-part series, Oregon Sports News’ Bryant Knox and Jared Wright will be breaking down each player on the Trail Blazers roster. The series will conclude with an OSN Roundtable in October covering the state of the franchise entering the 2015-16 campaign.

Today, we take a look at another of the Trail Blazers’ free-agent signings this offseason. He’s a versatile young player capable of playing on the wing or at power forward, but there are issues that make his fit on the court, at either spot, awkward.

(Stats courtesy of NBA.com and basketball-reference.com)

Where He’s Been

Al-Farouq Aminu has bounced around the league a bit since being drafted eighth overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2010. After one season in LA, he was dealt to the then-New Orleans Hornets as part of the Chris Paul deal, which featured shooting guard Eric Gordon as the chief prize.

Aminu was the Hornets’/Pelicans’ starting small forward for most of his tenure there, but due to the team being bad and his general lack of production, his rookie contract was allowed to expire, and he signed a multi-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks. The former Wake Forest product went to Dallas for peanuts: he made $3.7 million his last year with the Pelicans, but in a league that values shooting skill more than ever, Aminu couldn’t get the kind of rich contract most young guys look for.

Aminu made under a million dollars with the Mavs last year, and although he played in 74 games and averaged 18.5 minutes in those games, Dallas chose to cut him despite the obvious need for young legs on their bench.

How He Got Here

After five seasons of good defense, bad shooting, and steady playing time, Aminu finally got the long-term deal he wanted, signing a four-year, $30 million deal with the man that drafted him in 2010: Portland GM Neil Olshey, who was the head man with the Clippers before taking the reins in Rip City.

With LaMarcus Aldridge officially a free agent at the time (though it’s now generally known that Olshey expected Aldridge to leave), Olshey had to walk a fine line between upgrading the team in case LMA returned and setting up the team for the future in case LMA left, which indeed happened.

Aminu is perhaps the premier case of that fine line Olshey had to walk; he needed a young player with some untapped potential, yet at the same time, he needed a player with tangible playing experience. Aminu fulfills both requirements. Whether the now-25-year-old (he had his birthday Monday) realizes any of his untapped potential is a question that will be answered by Portland coach Terry Stotts, Aminu himself, and the one force we all must answer to sooner or later, Time.

What He Brings To The Table

By all accounts, Aminu is a solid defender. Standing at a rangy 6’ 9” with long arms and fast feet, he has the look of a guy who could shut down players of all types, from the sub-six-foot waterbugs like Isaiah Thomas to near seven-foot power forwards like LaMarcus Aldridge, and everybody in between not named LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Anthony Davis.

His success doing those things, however, was mixed. Part of that is the general suckitude of Dallas on defense last year; Aminu and Tyson Chandler were the only plus players on defense, and everybody else was either too old, too small for their positions, or too disinterested to defend capably.

Aminu also is slightly overrated on defense, according to the stats. His Diff% defending players shooting three-pointers and mid-range shots is very poor. Players shot threes 3.8% better than normal when Aminu was guarding them, and that figure rose to a vomitous 5.3% on shots from 15 feet and beyond. Again, that could be because the Mavs were a horrid defensive team more than it could be a sign of Aminu’s ability.

Aminu’s net rating was a good 5.7 in 2014-15, with his defensive rating at 101.4. His PER is a below-average 12.4 for his career; he’s never topped the league average of 15 in his career, with his career-high being 14.4, set last year.

Playing in a reserve role, his basic totals of 5.6 PPG and 4.6 RPG in 2014-15 shouldn’t really be taken into account, but his numbers during his last two seasons in New Orleans, when he played over 2000 minutes in each of those seasons, reveal more.

Playing up to 27 minutes a game during those seasons, Aminu averaged a paltry 7-6 per game, and shot a career-high 47% from the field. He was often the fifth option on those teams, which were riddled with injuries (probably why Aminu had to play 27 minutes a game) and had lackluster leadership both on the court and on the coaches’ seat.

That said, it still is disconcerting that Aminu basically is the same player he was when he was drafted in 2010: an athletic young tweener that can’t shoot unless he’s right at the cup.

And about that shooting…hold on a moment. I just saw his numbers, and I have to go get a strong beer.

OK, now that we’re fortified with liquid courage, here’s Aminu’s shooting numbers from 2014-15:

Area of the Floor / Shooting Percentage

Restricted Area: 59%

In The Paint (Non-RA): 29%

Mid-Range: 22.2% (AHHHH, MY EYES!)

Corner 3: 30%

Above the Break 3: 24.6% (AHHHH, NOT AGAIN!)

Unless he’s dunking or laying the ball up, Aminu tosses up more junk than a bum looking for his next meal in a landfill. That corner three percentage, in particular, is just dreadful.

What To Expect

Some folks think Aminu can thrive as a small-ball power forward. I see two huge problems with that.

Firstly, the Blazers have several traditionally-sized big men that either are playable or figure into the team’s future plans. Meyers Leonard is worlds better as a shooter than Aminu, Chris Kaman is older but still serviceable, Noah Vonleh will get some burn because the Blazers are rebuilding, Ed Davis is basically an Aminu clone, except bigger, and Mason Plumlee will get time as well.

Furthermore, a smaller guy playing at the 4-spot is best when he can make the offense pay by shooting or driving past slower players, and Aminu lacks the skills to do those things. As mentioned above, his shooting stats inspired heavy drinking by your intrepid researcher, while his ball handling skills haven’t garnered much attention, probably because they don‘t exist.

He can use his speed to cut behind slower players towards the hoop, but unless he’s playing with Leonard and/or a couple great shooters among the smaller players, the big man defending him is going to be close to the paint anyway, sealing off those cutting lanes and letting Aminu either drift along the corners or set picks and roll into a mountainous man at the rim.

His skills defensively would suit him better at the small forward position; the Blazers look to have no plus defenders on the perimeter, and Aminu at least has the size to defend the better wing players and not get taken into the post and trucked. Mo Harkless can switch between either wing spot, while Gerald Henderson is a shooting guard who likes to shoot, and CJ McCollum will be toggling between the point and the off-guard spots.

The problem with playing Aminu at the 3, again, is his piss-poor shooting. Sorry to harp on about it, but shooting from the wings (and from a big spot) is what Stotts craves most in his offense. With the other options at the big man spots, and with a couple young prospects in Harkless and Pat Connaughton, as well as Allen Crabbe, on the wing, if Aminu can’t help the team score points or can‘t make an appreciable difference on defense, Stotts will sit him regardless of how much money he makes.

Al-Farouq Aminu has been kicked to the curb by three teams already in his five-year career because his defense and hustle can’t make up for his abysmal shooting. He’s likely worked on his shot, and if the Blazers can turn Meyers Leonard into a good shooter, anything’s possible.

Unless he can make an occasional corner three, or morphs into a Tony Allen-like defensive stopper, his butt will be nailed to that bench as younger players take his minutes and run with them.

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.


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