Love the article. Hope the lower cap numbers in the new NBA labor agreement mean Animu's summer 2013 market value is lower than some of the comparable players in this article whose contracts came under the old labor agreement. I think there is value and potential with Aminu, a la' Jason Smith. In fact I think Aminu would pair well with Smith as a complimentary offense-defense forwards. In addition they are a high post (Smith) low post (Aminu via cuts to the basket) complimentary pair on offense. They could be the core of a 2nd Team, and each has the potential to play with the starters in certain situations. I hope the Hornets/Pelicans sign Aminu to a Jason Smith or Robin Lopez type contract.
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Gauging Al-Farouq Aminu’s Value
At the start of the 2012-13 NBA season, the Hornets declined Al-Farouq Aminu’s 2013-14 player option worth about $3.7 million, making him an unrestricted free agent this summer. At the time, opinions were split on whether or not doing so was a good idea, but neither side appeared to be terribly distraught or excited then the team reached its decision. Since then, his play has improved enough that if the Hornets could go back in time, they very well might have picked up that option. In fact, the team was tempted to offer him an extension after his stellar performance in the team’s home opener, but ultimately decided that their best course of action was to spend this upcoming summer evaluating him in order to make their decision. Regardless, the past is the past, and the decision now becomes not only whether or not Aminu figures into the Hornets’ future plans, but what it will cost to make that happen.
In order to make an accurate assessment of Aminu’s value, his past production along with his future potential must be considered, while using past salaries of a few comparable players to help gain some perspective. After properly addressing these factors, an estimate can be made regarding what he can expect to be paid, followed by a decision on whether or not the Hornets should be the team to make that investment.
On the offensive end, Aminu has largely been a lost cause. He has improved his field goal percentage in the paint this year, but his shooting is even worse from mid-range than it was a year ago, and he does not have three-point range. Plain and simple, Aminu is not someone who can help an offense space the floor, and will generate most of his scoring through smart cuts to the rim and garbage baskets. He may score off of dribble drives every now and then, but those drives come with a very high risk of turnovers.
Apart from rebounding, it is fairly difficult to gauge exactly how effective Aminu has been on the defensive end. While he has the physical tools to be a very good defender, he often loses focus and gets beaten by his man. Overall, he has disappointed as an on-ball defender in regards to his high level of athleticism, but his superior wingspan has made him a solid help defender and one that is good at getting into passing lanes. He also has a tendency to sometimes cheat off of his man and hang out closer to the rim in order to go track down rebounds, which can become quite costly (just ask Paul George).
From a statistical perspective, he allowed about a league average PER vs. opposing small forwards last season, and up around 16.5 this season (per 82games.com), not exactly favorable numbers. The team has allowed 4 1/2 less points per 100 possessions with him on the floor this season (per the NBA.com media stats tool), though, but he plays nearly all of his minutes with other Hornets starters, so this data is hard to use as an evaluation tool. With Aminu, it all comes down to what you see, and Jason Calmes explained it most accurately – “a capable defender who makes frequent errors.”
Based on his production over his first three seasons, Aminu would have been hard pressed to command a salary very far above the league minimum if it weren’t for the immense strides that he has taken on the defensive boards. Without that improvement, his only chance to earn much more than that would have been a direct result of his athleticism coupled with his young age (Aminu turns just 23 in September); or, in other words, his potential.
Al-Farouq’s age may be the best thing going for him at this point. Despite nearing the completion of his third NBA season, he will have only just turned 23 when next season begins, giving him another two or three years before he enters his “prime.” The question then becomes how much this youth is valued by each team, and how much room Aminu has to improve given said youth.
From an offensive standpoint, it is difficult to expect Aminu’s offensive game to evolve much further than it already has given his underwhelming level of growth over the past two seasons in New Orleans. As he increasingly comes to terms with the fact that he is not a play-maker on offense, he could reduce his turnover rate a bit, but it will likely always be among the worst at his position. In addition, the mechanics on his jump shot are so ugly that it could be beyond repair. That being said, he has improved his shot selection as the season has progressed – before the all-star break, Aminu was taking 54% of his shots less than 5 feet from the rim. In the 18 games since then, that number has risen all the way to 65%, an improvement that will make him a more tolerable offensive player in the future if the trend continues. Either way, there is still always the “all it takes is one” theory in our back pocket; that is, the possibility that one NBA GM somewhere sees Aminu as an ongoing project on offense who can become an impactful player on that end. For those who have watched him as frequently as Hornets followers, it is likely hard to see, but if another team can visualize that possibility, then his price tag will likely become steeper than it should be.
The one area in which Aminu could realistically improve his offense is his offensive rebounding and subsequent ability to contribute second chance points. His offensive rebound rate has remained right around 7 or 8% throughout his first three seasons, above average for his position but by no means elite. Given the leap he has made this season on the defensive glass, it could suggest that he has the potential to grow as an offensive rebounder as well, which would lead to easier scoring chances and therefore increase his value drastically. Additionally, offensive rebounding was one of the strongest parts of his game while playing at Wake Forest, so the ability is certainly there. Whether he gets the coaching and/or makes the effort to improve in that area, however, is highly questionable and would be an inherent risk for whoever signs him.
Despite questionable results on the defensive end thus far, teams will truly covet Aminu based on the defensive player that they think he can become. While the issues with his offense are largely mechanical, many of his biggest defensive problems could be mental. As John Hollinger described it in his preseason evaluation of Aminu:
“He has some serious potential at the defensive end. He is crazy long for a wing player. His overall defensive data wasn’t that strong because he still needs more game experience and better concentration, but he had some breathtaking moments at that end.”
At this point, experience has to become less of an excuse, given the heavy minutes he has played for the Hornets over the past two seasons. Concentration, however, is still very much a concern. With the right combination of increased dedication to the defensive end and the right coaching and tutelage (Igoudala, anyone?), Aminu still has the tools to be a truly great defender, both on and off of the basketball.
Aminu’s tantalizing wingspan and athleticism also gives him another highly desired attribute – versatility. Sure, Al-Farouq has played small forward for the Hornets, but there is a very real possibility that other teams may see him as more of a 4 than a 3, especially if he can add a little more muscle. In fact, this notion was expressed back before he was even drafted. Per Draft Express:
Aminu measured fairly well too, coming in at 6-7 ¼ without shoes with a massive 7-3 ¼ wingspan. Despite his unimpressive interviews—he looked fairly unenthusiastic and stated repeatedly that he sees himself almost strictly as a small forward—he has enough height and length to see minutes at power forward in a small lineup. His measurements compare favorably to those of Josh Smith(6-7 without shoes, 7-0 wingspan), Jeff Green(6-7 ¾, 7-1 ¼) and Danny Granger(6-7 ½, 7-1 ½).
In another column, Jonathan Givony of Draft Express explains the reason for Aminu’s improvement between his freshman and sophomore years at Wake Forest:
The biggest change that must be discussed is the new role Aminu has found himself in. Mostly asked to operate last year a raw and awkward looking small forward, likely due to assurances that were made on the recruiting trail, Aminu has looked far more comfortable as a face-up power forward this season. This appears to be his likely position in today’s hyper-athletic and increasingly small-ball oriented NBA as well, playing a similar role to that of Josh Smith, Thaddeus Young, Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green and many many other combo forwards.
With three years of his career now past and the need for a new contract, it would be shocking if Aminu was not more open to the idea of playing some power forward instead of just small forward. As detailed above, it could make a lot of sense, and that’s before the resulting impact on the offensive side of the ball is addressed. Not only would the change benefit his offensive rebounding numbers, but it would take him off of the wing, where he hardly even needs to be guarded due to his terrible jump shooting.
No matter what position Aminu ends up playing during his next contract, there should be no debate that he has the physical tools to turn into a very solid player on the defensive side of the ball; the question (and it’s a big one) is just whether or not he has the ability to dedicate himself to the craft.
So what we have here is a turnover-prone, poor jump shooter who is also an elite defensive rebounder, and also possesses the athleticism and wingspan to become a very good defender while still young enough to conceivably make that defensive leap. While it’s tough to think of a player who displays all of those characteristics, are there any players in recent memory who possessed relatively similar skill sets and other intangibles to Aminu? If so, what kind of salaries did they demand on the free agent market? While these salaries are not a perfect comparative tool due to factors such as inflation in league salary cap and changes to rules within the NBA collective bargaining agreement, they should still give us a pretty solid foundation. The four players listed below are who I decided to evaluate for similarity.
Per-36 Minute Stats
(Click to enlarge both charts)
2005-06 Reggie Evans (age 26) – signed to 5 year, $23 million contract in 2006
Clearly, Aminu and Evans aren’t comparable in size; Reggie is one inch shorter and 30 pounds heavier than Al-Farouq. However, the pros and cons in both players’ games are very similar. Both are beasts on the defensive glass who offer next to nothing on offense and are very turnover-prone with the ball in their hands. Evans got that contract to be one thing – a rebounding machine. He was more valuable than current Aminu in this regard due to his ferociousness on the boards at both ends thanks to his superior strength, whereas Aminu only truly excels on the defensive glass. However, Aminu may be able to make up for some of that gap through what be brings to the table with his athleticism (such as his added value defensively and in transition) along with being over 3 years younger than 2005-06 Evans and thus having more room to grow in other facets of the game.
2009-10 Tyrus Thomas (age 24) – signed to 5 year, $40 million contract in 2010
Tyrus Thomas – you know, the one before his production fell off of a cliff in the 2011-12 season, a drop-off which John Hollinger even struggled to comprehend – is an interesting guy to compare to Aminu. Coming out of college, the two were nearly identical in their measurements – height, weight, wingspan, and agility were all virtually the same. Offensively, Thomas was a higher-usage player due to his superior (but still not great) mid-range jumper (43.5% from mid-range), but the two posted nearly identical eFG% and TS% averages. At the time of Thomas’ new contract, Bobcats blog Rufus on Fire described his strengths to be “his excellent defense” and “his energy running the floor and rebounding.” Why can’t the same be true for Aminu? Tyrus’ upside then was far higher than Al-Farouq’s now due to a more versatile offensive game and better leaping ability, but there are similarities between the two. It’s also important to remember, though, that this contract is now viewed as one of the worst in the league, and can be seen as an example of how potential doesn’t always translate to success.
2010-11 Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (age 24) – signed to 4 year, $19 million contract in 2011
Mbah a Moute shares a lot in common with Aminu. LRMAM of 2010 was a player known for his excellent perimeter defense while contributing next to nothing on the offensive end. Like Aminu, he makes his best offensive contributions either through smart, crisp cuts to the basket or put-backs from offensive rebounds. Defensively, the two excel, but for different reasons. Aminu does his best work on the glass, while sometimes struggling to stay in front of his man despite physical attributes that should help him do so. Mbah a Moute, however, was one of the league’s best on-ball wing defenders while just an average defensive rebounder. If forced to choose between 2011 LRMAM’s defense and Aminu’s rebounding, Mbah a Moute is certainly the pick, but Al-Farouq has some physical attributes that Luc Richard could only dream of.
2010-11 Earl Clark (age 23) – signed to 2 year, $2.4 million contract in 2011
Clark is another guy who, at the time that he signed his new contract, was a bit of a mess on offense but showed promise on defense. His quantifiable results on defense were pretty ugly, but he had some great moments and his body frame and athleticism gave hope for great improvement, much like Aminu. Offensively, Aminu right now is actually better than Clark was after the 2010-11 season. While Clark usually settled for jumpers that he almost always missed, Aminu was at least able to score off of some cuts to the basket. Current Aminu is likely a better prospect than 2011 Earl Clark, but the gap isn’t terribly significant.
Differences in level of production aside, it would be difficult to expect Aminu to make anything near what Tyrus pulled in purely due to a lack of consistency throughout his first three NBA seasons. Before this year, Aminu’s defensive rebound rate never even came close to 20%, but this year it is up around 25%. While his improved rebounding passes the eye test, there is not enough data available to confidently say that it isn’t at least partially fluky in nature. That fact may have a larger impact on the length of his next contract as opposed to the yearly dollar amount. As a result, it would be very surprising if Aminu’s next deal contains more than three guaranteed seasons.
In terms of contract amount – if Aminu opts to sign with whoever offers him the most money, he probably won’t be back in New Orleans. Per Larry Coon’s NBA CBA FAQ:
Teams have until the October 31 preceding the player’s second regular season to exercise their option for the player’s third season. Likewise, they have until the October 31 preceding the player’s third regular season to exercise their option for the player’s fourth season. If the team declines either option, then the player enters free agency as an unrestricted free agent.
However, if the team declines either option and the player becomes a free agent, the team cannot re-sign him to a salary greater than he would have received had the team exercised its option. In other words, teams can’t decline an option year in order to get around the rookie salary scale and give the player more money. This applies to all types of signing, including the Bird exception, the Mid-Level exception, and cap room.
As a result, the Hornets cannot offer Aminu more than $3.7 million for the 2013-14 season, the amount that he would have received under his player option for next season. It is not unreasonable to think that another team would consider paying him up to around $5 million per season, though it would be a big stretch for his current capabilities as a basketball player. The Hornets may be getting the feeling that he just doesn’t have the motor or drive to ever be anything more than a slightly above average defender, but his physical tools combined with his young age are likely enough for another team to assume otherwise. Offensively, as mentioned before, he could do a lot for his efficiency by cutting down on his jumpers (which he has already started doing), so there is reason to believe that he could become “less of a negative” on that end as well. Lastly, there is the added value he could bring to a team as an option at power forward, one that the Hornets don’t have the luxury of exploring at present due to their front court depth.
If the Hornets are able to retain Aminu, I see a few ways that it could be done (again, assuming he doesn’t just auction himself off to the highest bidder). Over the past couple of seasons, Dell Demps has created contracts for role players in different ways, and he will have another project on his hands when deciding how to go about structuring an offer for Aminu. Listed below are a few options that he could utilize that are similar to those deals.
- The Carl Landry Plan. If Demps is unsure about whether or not he wants to make a long term commitment to Aminu, the Hornets could offer him a premium (in this case, the most that they can offer him is the amount that he would have made in his 2013-14 player option) in a one year deal. Doing so could also be useful for the Hornets if the team wants more time to evaluate Aminu and to preserve their cap space for one more season before making a true splash in the 2014 free agency class. Aminu could welcome this kind of deal as well to attempt to increase his own value, especially if he doesn’t like the offers that he receives from other teams. Possible contract – 1 year, $3.7 million
- The Robin Lopez Plan. The Hornets signed Robin Lopez to a three year deal paying him about $5 million per season, but there was a catch – if the team lets Lopez go by July 5th 2013, he will only be owed $500,000. Dell could try to work out a similar deal with Aminu, expressing to him that the team has valued his improvement, but needs to see it continue before making a commitment beyond next season. Possible contract – 3 years, $11 million, with $1 million buyout before year 2
- The Jason Smith Plan. This contract is similar to the Lopez deal, except the second year is guaranteed and the third year is only partially guaranteed. Aminu could receive a longer commitment from the Hornets, but for less money annually (but more guaranteed overall). Possible contract – 3 years, $9 million, with $500,000 buyout before year 3.
The distance between Al-Farouq Aminu’s ceiling and floor as perceived by most of the league is likely one of the widest in the NBA at this point, so projecting his next deal is no easy task. Given what he has done so far and what he could do in the future, the range presented above appears to be a pretty solid estimate for his next contract’s value. Ultimately, it will be up to Dell Demps and the rest of the Hornets’ front office to decide Aminu’s value to the Hornets’ organization, and the difference between that and his market value – in addition to Al-Farouq’s personal preferences – will determine where he ends up next season and beyond.
It can take the defensive specialists a couple contracts to blossom. I root for Aminu to pull it together. Rebounding is his one skill right now, but wow is it elite. I keep him around if I can get the right price. It took Bowen and Ben Wallace and Tyson Chandler several CONTRACTS to get it together. Not everyone is full formed like a 20 yr old D.Howard. Think of the player I believe the Hornets wish he would become...Tony Allen- but with super elite rebounding. 75% of Allen's defense coupled with his current rebounding...that is a championship piece. Unless someone else wants to pay him 5 mil+. Then, SEE YA!!!!
I was thinking the same type of plans when figuring out how we'd re-sign him. If I had to choose I'd choose the Lopez way. It also makes his trade value higher because of a great contract like that if we wanted to trade him later on
I personally think we should just move on from Al-Farouq unless he signs for $2.5 million or cheaper. I love how Darius Miller plays and think he could be a good backup. If we draft Otto Porter, then I wouldn't try to bring Aminu back. If we don't draft a small forward and upgrade another position in the draft, I think we should go after Corey Brewer or another small forward.