I remember reading through pieces on the Portland Trail Blazers a few weeks ago while I was working on another project and came across a notable quote from Damian Lillard about forward Al-Farouq Aminu, per The Ringer’s Paolo Uggetti. It wasn’t anything that immediately grabbed my attention, but I felt like it summed up Aminu’s role on the team as a basketball and a person quite well.
“I never forget we had a game in Miami like [three]years ago,” Lillard said about Aminu, whom the Blazers refer to as “Chief.” “He had 16 points in the first half, and he was the best player we had on offense, and in the second half, he got one shot. […] After the game, I didn’t know until I looked at [the box score], I was like, ‘This dude is killing it and we didn’t even let him get the ball.’ But if I hadn’t noticed it, he would have never said anything. I think that sums up who he is. […] It’s the best part about him.”From The Ringer
In his time as a Blazer since 2015, Aminu has had a lot of these nights where he quietly will drop 20 but would never be the one to tell you after the game. For almost his whole career, he’s averaged just under two three-pointers a game and the reliability has continued this year at 1.3 threes per contest. But the real jump is his 2-point percentage; Aminu is shooting 56 percent from the field on two-pointers while still averaging his 9.3 points. The catch is, you wouldn’t know any of this if you didn’t look at the stat lines.
Al-Farouq’s outside shooting has always been welcomed, but his defensive edge is what the Blazers and fans alike underestimated. Since joining the team, Aminu has averaged over six defensive rebounds a game and the big guy usually manages a steal too. On paper, he seems to be everything the Blazers (and the league) want in a stretch 3/4 now; defense and a shot from outside while he can still take it to the rack. So why has Chief not developed into the best secret weapon we have?
Before beating the Suns last week, the Blazers were looking at six losses in the last seven games. If that win hadn’t happened, I do believe someone’s job would be on the line. Without jinxing the situation, it felt like it wouldn’t be the backcourt on the chopping block for this round of ‘blow-it-up’ conversations; it felt like Terry Stotts—the coach with the fourth-longest running tenure—was feeling the fingers starting to point elsewhere. I have to wonder, if Aminu hasn’t felt encouraged to repeat those nights when he has flashes of greatness at both ends, maybe that’s the sign of a bigger leadership problem at hand.
Damian is the default leader and has been somewhat in tandem with Stotts since his draft in 2012. While the two are some of the most laidback personalities in the league, Stotts was comfortable to handle a lot of media as the face of the team. But when Aminu goes off for 16 in a half and doesn’t get the ball more than once after that, that’s not a point guard’s fault—that’s a coach not letting you be aware of what he sees from his seat too.
Empowering the guy who wouldn’t brag about his own contributions to his own team—that’s Stotts’ job. And if he doesn’t figure that out, I would only assume—in a league where defensive wings are equivalent to gold—there’s a coach willing to invest in Al-Farouq Aminu more than Portland was.