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Can New Orleans trust Al-Farouq Aminu to handle the starting small forward role?
[Today, redhopeful (follow him on Twitter here) makes his long awaited At the Hive debut! - Rohan]
A year ago, Al-Farouq Aminu was the inexperienced part of the package the Hornets received in return for Chris Paul. Fans largely knew what to expect out of Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman, but at best, most only knew Aminu as the 8th pick of the 2010 NBA Draft. Beyond that, little else, as Aminu struggled to find consistency most of his rookie season even though he was behind a very below average Ryan Gomes.
Regardless, Aminu saw a significant bump in playing time during his first year with the Hornets largely due to a number of Trevor Ariza injuries. He drew the start in 21 games where he averaged a tick over 31 minutes, putting up a line of 8 points, 7 rebounds and 1.8 assists. However, his efficiency was abysmal (48.1 TS%), worse than anything we ever witnessed out of Ariza. Defensively, he showed promise with his natural ability and effort but was quite mediocre giving up .91 PPP (opposed to Ariza's .82 PPP). According to Synergy Sports, it appeared he really struggled in dealing with spot up shooters as they torched him for .99 PPP.
Naturally, this summer, Hornet fans were eager to see if Aminu would show improvement in any facet during his Olympic run. During qualifying, Aminu put up a line of 13.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1 steal and 1.8 blocks per game. Although he averaged 3.2 turnovers, Aminu shot the ball rather well, both from within the arc (47.5 2FG%) and outside of it (38.5 3FG%). It was even more impressive when considering the solid opposition which included Lithuania, Russia and the Dominican Republic.
Then the Olympic Games happened, which provided a 5 game average of 7.8 points, 6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2 steals and 0.6 blocks. Not bad, but looking closer, Aminu's efficiency fell off a cliff as evidenced by a 30.3 (2FG%), 7.1 (3FG%) and 2.8 turnovers a game. After this performance, fans were left wondering what to realistically expect out of our 2013 de facto starting small forward.
And the Evidence Says...
To realistically project Aminu's upcoming season, I needed to check whether his summer performance showed any improvement. Due to the lack of Nigerian Olympic coverage, let alone analysis, I had to find and watch the basketball footage myself. Thanks to NBC Sports, at least this was possible. So what did the evidence point to?
Reason for hope. In particular, I focused on the two most revealing games. Against Lithuania, Aminu exhibited a number of good fundamentals: got into triple threat position offensively, set decent picks, ran off screens well, looked to rebound using both his body and nose for the ball and played excellent help defense. On the downside, his shot was shaky and he had some poor turnovers. He managed to drill an open 20 footer but all of his other shots outside the paint missed Ariza-style - aka badly bricked. He especially looked uncomfortable shooting jumpers off the dribble which always resulted in a poor miss.
Against Argentina, he drew the defensive start against Manu Ginobili and it turned out as expected. He picked up two quick fouls within the first three minutes of the game. We know Manu can do this to practically anybody, but it appeared Aminu came out sluggish. But after sitting out the next ten minutes of the game clock, he came back a much different player - noticeably more focused and aggressive. I don't recall him bouncing back quite so strongly after poor starts last season. The most impressive thing was his unbelievable playmaking ability. That's right, Al Farouq was handling the ball very well (no turnovers for the game) and making good decisions against quality players such as Ginobili, Delfino and Nocioni. He had a number of fantastic assists that were both on the money and dished at the most opportune time, leading to easy scores.
As well as he played, however, his jumpshot looked worse than what I witnessed against Lithuania - two airballs and a host of bad bricks. Defensively, he got his hands on a number of balls and once again played excellent help defense. However, perhaps due to this football safety mentality, his main assignment would periodically hit a jumper or merely blow by an out of position Aminu with ease.
There are two areas that will likely determine how successful Aminu will be this upcoming season. One, he needs to strongly discipline himself so that he primarily concerns himself with his defensive assignment. As both Synergy Sports and Aminu's Olympic run indicated, he appears to play help defense to a fault. This will not be necessary on a Monty Williams coached team that has just added a defensive savant. Second, Aminu needs to constantly be aware of his role: a supporting specialist. Due to the team's strengths, he won't have much responsibility outside of defense and rebounding. This includes sticking to shot attempts in his comfort zone (open jumpers inside the arc and floaters in the lane) and avoiding poor turnovers.
Considering Aminu showed excellent effort and fundamentals on a poorly coached Nigerian team, there should be a strong belief he'll continue to put in the work to handle large minutes at the 3. We should expect some bumps in the road where often times he may look like the worst player on the floor, given his age and experience, but it won't deter him. If there's one thing we've become accustomed to, it's his stoicism. He doesn't seem fazed by anything as he never seems to let his emotions get the best of him. Perhaps at certain points this season, we'll even be privileged to catch a glimpse of his potentially expanding game. But for now, we'll all happily settle for a player comparable to one of the newest members of the Washington Wizards.