The Portland Trail Blazers have played 29 games so far this season, and it really isn’t an argument who their 3rd best player is. Most people would say Jusuf Nurkic, some might even take a stab at it and guess Evan Turner. But one player had stepped up to have a breakout season and become the 3-and-D player that the Blazers desperately needed.
When Neil Olshey gave Al-Farouq Aminu a 4-year, $30 million contract during the summer of 2015 there was a lot of murmuring among the fan base. Aminu had just had a breakout playoff series with the Dallas Mavericks and a lot of people thought that the Blazers overpayed because of a fluky stretch of good shooting.
Fast forward to this December 2017 and Aminu is the 3rd best player in Portland, behind only Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Don’t believe me, look at the numbers…
Aminu is averaging career high numbers in the following categories: points, blocks, 3 point field goal percentage, free throw percentage, offensive rating, box plus/minus, and on track to blow away his previous win share total.
Now this is just comparing Aminu against Aminu. Let’s take a moment to compare him to others in the league.
Before we compare Aminu to other players, let’s establish who we are comparing him to. A lot of people see Aminu as a small forward, and originally that is what he was signed to play in Portland. Well in the short couple years he has been in Rip City, the game has changed. According to Basketball Reference, Aminu has spent 96% of his time on the court as a power forward, only 2% as a small forward and 2% as a center.
3 Point Shooting
Let’s take a look at Aminu’s ability to shoot the 3. Coming into this season, Aminu had never averaged more than 36% from beyond the arc. This season, Aminu is one of the best 3 point shooters in the entire league, shooting over 49% from beyond the arc. He is shooting 4.6 threes per game, and making 2.3 of them.
Other power forwards that come close to comparing, Mirza Teletovic and Ryan Anderson.
Teletovic is shooting 47% from beyond the arc while shooting 4.5 threes per game, and Anderson is shooting 41% while shooting 6.5 threes per game.
What makes Aminu’s shooting numbers more impressive than the two others is the role that he plays for his team. Aminu is a starter and vital two-way player for the Blazers. Teletovic is a role player that doesn’t play big minutes or in clutch situations. Anderson is a one dimensional offensive player who fits really well in the Houston system.
Aminu’s contract is also better than both of the other players. While Aminu is paid around $7.5 million a year, Teletovic makes $10 million, and Anderson makes $20 million.
Aminu is a much better defensive player, while leads me to my next point.
Aminu has been seen in a lot of stretches of his career as a mainly defensive player. His career-best shooting this year has overshadowed his defensive abilities.
Saturday night in Charlotte, that defense was on full show when Aminu had a HUGE chase down block on Kemba Walker in the 4th quarter to help the Blazers seal another road victory.
Comparing defensive stats and performances are much harder than offensive stats, but for this one I want to compare Aminu to Noah Vonleh, Aminu’s teammate and competition for the starting power forward position.
Aminu currently has a defensive rating of 103, while Vonleh has a defensive rating of 102. Those are both towards the top for power forwards in the league. Aminu has a defensive box plus/minus of 1.6, while Vonleh has one of 1.8. Now these are more advanced stats that a little bit more difficult to understand, but go check out the glossary on Basketball Reference as a homework assignment.
With all of this said, Aminu and Vonleh have had incredible defensive season thus far (as have quite a few of their teammates). In these two stats Vonleh edges out Aminu a little bit as the better defensive power forward on the team. But let’s dig a little deeper.
Aminu leads Vonleh in defensive rebounding, blocks, and steals. What sets Aminu apart on the defensive side of the court is his versatility. Aminu, who was originally a small forward, can legitimately guard 5 positions on the floor. He has the foot quickness to keep up with guards on the wing and he has developed the requisite toughness to battle with centers down low.
Health: The Key to it All
So far in 2017, Aminu has missed 13 games. Last season, he missed 21 games. The Blazers need him on the court if they want to compete in the Western Conference.
Earlier in November, Aminu sprained his right ankle and left the locker room in a walking boot. This led to speculation that Aminu would miss a significant chunk of the season. Fortunately he made it back in less than a month.
Right now, Aminu is the 3rd best player on the Blazers, and he is the most well-rounded player on the roster. Every team in the league is looking for a 3-and-D player that stretch the floor and be counted on in clutch minutes. Aminu has become that player for the Blazers.