Al-Farouq Aminu was the first free agent signing in the NBA last week when the Portland Trailblazers went after the former Dallas Mavericks small forward. There was no doubt Neil Olshey, Blazers’ General Manager, wanted Aminu to be on his team.
The small forward for the Nigerian D’Tigers tweeted shortly after the league entered free agency:
“Headed to Portland with my guy Neil Olshey, who believed in me since day one. Much love.”
Olshey was the man who drafted Aminu with the Clippers’ eighth pick in 2010 while the former was a GM there.
There were mixed reactions to Aminu’s signing with the Blazers, which fell to the Memphis Grizzlies in five games in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. Expectedly, there were reservations about how Aminu would impact Blazers and these were largely due to Aminu’s game being largely one-sided. Notwithstanding, most of the reactions that trailed Aminu’s entry into Portland were positive due to his athleticism, energetic rebounding and pugnacious defense – clearly attributes that weren’t exceptional in the skill set of his predecessor at the small forward position.
On an individual level, Aminu is obviously a winner as the Blazers are in rebuild mode. He is expected to earn about $7.5 million in his first year on a four-year $30 million deal with the Blazers. More money compared to the $2.9 million annual salary he earned with the Mavericks. On the basketball court, Aminu will be a starter with more minutes than his career average. This new role would offer the 6’9 205-pound lanky forward more opportunity to develop other aspects of his game, especially his shooting – an aspect he struggled with mostly in his career until the 2014/2015 season when he displayed marked improvements due to increased playing time.
Aminu showed so much heart and hustle during the series against Houston Rockets and at times he looked like the only player trying to win. In Game 3, he had 2 steals and 3 blocks in 22 minutes off the bench. In Game 5, he had 5 steals in 36 minutes as a starter. Aminu is a defensive specialist in the sense that he can guard multiple positions from 1 to 4 due to his quickness and lengthy 7’4 wingspan. These are clearly benefits for the Blazers. Had Olshey not rushed into getting Aminu the minute free agency hit, there was no doubt the 24-year old would be off the table in no time as there were other GMs looking to add him to their roster. Players with 3-point capability and defensive prowess (3&D) are scarce specimens and Aminu has not reached his prime yet.
Though Aminu isn’t a scoring threat, his field goal average continues to climb. His progressive averages over the course of five years in the league are: 43.7%, 43.1%, 48.6%, 49.6%, 48.5%. Even though his three-point shooting has been spiraling downwards during the same period, going from 31.5% to 27.4%, he elevated his touch from outside the arc during the playoffs, connecting on 7 of 11 attempts. Aminu’s player efficiency rating has also continued to improve over the years. In his first season, his PER was rated 9.6; 2011/12 = 10.6; 2012/13 = 13.7; 2013/14 = 13.2; 2014/15 = 14.4, and in last season’s playoffs his PER was 20.4. The league’s average for PER is 15.00. Due to the fact that one of the critical metrics for measuring a player’s PER is the time spent on the court, it implies Aminu’s contributions to a team goes beyond basic individual stats and if given more playing time, he could be an opponent’s worst nightmare. Blazers lost to Grizzlies in the first round in last playoffs not because they could not score; but because their defensive arsenal was not enough. The team needs defensive guys that would help the shooters stay fresh on offense and contribute efficiently. That being said, Aminu needs to revive his offensive rebounding that made him attractive while playing at Wake Forest University. This is one area he needs to work on in addition to improving his shooting mechanics from the mid-range and three-point.
Let’s hope Aminu has a breakout year playing for the Blazers and also get a rental for his three-storey home in Playa Vista, California. But before then, basketball fans in Nigeria look forward to Aminu joining D’Tigers for the 2015 Afrobasket Championship in Tunisia this August.