Season in Review: Al-Farouq Aminu

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Published: April 29, 2013
Aminu

On the court, no Hornet has caused as much vacillation of opinion as Al-Farouq Aminu in the 2012-2013 season. The New Orleans Hornets de facto starting small forward has not only had high highs and low lows throughout the season, but he has them in the same game . . . or even in the same play. These ups and downs as a Hornet has clouded his future with the New Orleans Pelicans.

While the past does not help us describe the present, it may help us understand it. Since I’ve described Aminu as perhaps the NBA player with the tallest walls . . . distance from floor to ceiling . . . and that he’s the Pelicans’ highest valued free agent (assuming the options on Lopez and Smith are picked up), I think it is very important to look at not only his season, but at the career up to this point, even moreso because the word “potential” has been following him from the NBA womb. At some point, the veil of potential is pierced.

Will that point be in July 2013?

Background

After 2 years at Wake Forest as a power forward, Aminu was selected by the Los Angeles Clippers with the 8th pick in the 2010 NBA draft . . . and the confusion had already begun: The 6’8″-ish, 215 lb.-ish player saw himself to be small forward despite his playing history.

In the February prior to the draft, he had been playing power forward after playing small forward for his first year.

The biggest change that much 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.

Then in May:

The fifth-ranked player on our latest mock draft, Al-Farouq Aminu’s biggest selling points have always been his elite physical tools, his strong work ethic, his versatility on both ends of the floor, and his massive upside. Shooting ability is not something many would list among his strengths, which is why the work he’s putting in here is so important. While it’s hard to take away anything definitively from a single workout only three days into his pre-draft training, what we saw here was very impressive, and a great sign for the likelihood he reaches his tremendous potential down the road.

An inconsistent shooter in college (18/66 beyond the arc on the season and 0.610 points per jump shot according to Synergy Sports Technology), Aminu always showed flashes of ability with his shot, but definitely lacked some polish, which showed in the results. Here, Aminu has tweaked a few things with his shot, focusing on getting more consistent mechanics, the biggest emphasis being the balance he gets his base for his shooting motion, something he did a great job displaying here. Keeping his elbow in and maintaining full extension have also been points of emphasis, both of which he also did well here. Time was spent working on both mid-range jumpers from the 15-20 foot range and from behind the arc, with pull-up and spot-up jumpers both being used from the mid-range.

. . .

Aminu’s work here is geared primarily toward making him a more complete player, with the specific work he’s doing likely to ease the transition to the small forward position should a team want to play him there. He certainly has the versatility to play either the 3 or the 4 with his outstanding defensive tools, but if he can really step up his shooting as he did here today while also continuing to refine his ball-handling skills, his best long-term potential likely lies at the small forward spot.

and:

Al-Farouq 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 June, our own Ryan Schwan took a peek at Aminu in response to rumors that he was falling (he fell, just not to the Hornets):

Aminu is living on that dread word, “potential”. Hard-nosed defense and rebounding can get him into the league and make him a contributor – maybe even one that could help the Hornets sooner than later, but to expect him to develop past being a role-player is banking on his willingness to work. Reportedly, he does, but it’s still a big if that makes me uncomfortable.

And it goes on and on.

Then, after his first year with the Clippers at age 20:

From the moment the Clippers stayed in the eighth spot after the draft lottery last May, they had their eye on Al-Farouq Aminu of Wake Forest. The obvious need for the team was (and unfortunately remains) small forward, and Aminu was the prospect they liked, not to mention the one they thought (or hoped at least) would be available. From the lottery to the draft itself, some other threes popped up on the NBA draft radar – Gordon Hayward, Paul George and Luke Babbitt in particular – but the Clippers always felt that AFA’s ceiling was higher.

After a season in the NBA, the jury is decidedly out on the choice. As frustrating as it is, we’re in essentially the same spot regarding Aminu in April 2011 that we were in back in June 2010 – he’s a great physical specimen, but it’s far from clear that he’s a particularly good basketball player. Is he the Clippers small forward of the future? It’s still possible, but he’s not much closer to being there today than he was when he was drafted.

. . .

As of now, he’s still the “Starting Small Forward of the Future”. When that future arrives, or even if it will ever arrive, is still far from clear. He certainly has all of the physical tools to do the job. In fact, even if he never develops much of an offensive game, he could be a solid contributor if he continues to develop as a defender and rebounder.

. . .

This off-season then will be important in Aminu’s development. If the Clippers fail to land a new starting small forward, he’ll be in the discussion to start next season, whether he’s ready to or not. If they succeed in signing the veteran presence they desire, that player becomes Aminu’s mentor, grooming him to one day take over the job. That’s assuming, of course, that AFA is still a Clipper, and wasn’t packaged up to facilitate the acquisition.

Early into his career in New Orleans, James Grayson had this to say about The Chief and his arrival:

This season there’s so much he needs to work on, the first being his jumper. Aminu has a very poor jump-shot and it clearly hinders the team’s ability to space the floor. The Hornets play at an extremely slow pace, so a jump-shot is something that Al needs desperately to flourish. His ability to run the floor is not a huge positive for the Hornets because of their pace, so his greatest strength is going unutilized.

Either he improves his shot incredibly over the next year or two, or his development might be a lot slower than some hoped. I believe that when we judge Aminu we must do so with patience, something many Hornets fans aren’t familiar with (re: Julian Wright).

So far Aminu has shown much of the same abilities and deficiencies. He rebounds the ball with great effectiveness, but turns it over at an alarming rate (17% TO). In addition his shot has not improved (15% from three on 1 attempt per game).

But I’m not worried about that, because Aminu’s work ethic is outstanding. Coming out of college scouts raved about his attentiveness and willingness to put in effort. Many other NBA players with the same talents and athleticism have gone on to waste it. Aminu is not like that. One thing is certain with all this “potential,” Al-Farouq with Monty Williams at his disposal, has a bright future in the NBA.

And then at the end of the season:

It’s been a somewhat up and down season for Al-Farouq. He’s trying to find his way in the NBA, trying to carve his niche. His superior length troubles even the best offensive players. He’s shown a remarkable ability to defend one on one, as well as help weak side.

The problem with Aminu has always been confidence and coordination. When he gets a steal you brace for what move he might go with towards the basket. We’ve seen balls fly off shot clocks, the side of the backboard, or even over it. Working on these skills will be paramount this offseason.

Though, criticizing him for doing these things seems absurd and somewhat cruel. His intentions are correct and the effort is clearly there. I don’t want him to think he’s doing the wrong thing because then he’ll just second guess himself all the time.

Stop thinking and do, that’s what he needs to play like. Working on the skills will come this offseason. Let’s hope his effort remains there.

Then, Ryan chimed in again, 2 years after his pre-draft post:

You see, there isn’t a lot of difference between the guy who is making the wrong decisions and failing and the guy making the right decisions and failing anyways. They both fail.

Ariza is the latter.

Aminu is the former. His results almost equal Ariza’s recent averages, as Aminu posted a 48.1% True Shooting Percentage to Ariza’s 47.8%(52.8% is league average), a per 36 minute turnover rate of 2.5 to Ariza’s 2.3, and posted about 2/3rds of Ariza’s assist rate.
Do these numbers inspire confidence in Aminu? No, of course not. But I’d rather have a bad 22 year old than an equally bad 27 year old. The 27 year is not going to change. The 22 year old may.

. . .

There is no player on the Hornets last season who impacted rebounding rates as much as Al-Farouq Aminu. In fact, the team rebound rates swung wildly, with the overall rebound rate being 48.8% when Aminu stepped off the floor – and 52.8% while on it. To put that in perspective, that’s a swing from the 25th “best” rebound rate in the league to the 3rd.

. . .

At the highest level, the team with Ariza gave up 6.1 more points per 100 posessions than they scored. With Aminu, they gave up 1.1 more points per 100 posession than they scored. The team averaged giving up 3.7 more points per 100 posessions than they scored. So, essentially, when Ariza played the Hornets got worse. When Aminu played the Hornets got better. (Not good! Better.)

So Aminu is probably better than Ariza right now, and is still learning the game. That is why the Hornets traded Ariza.

We’re getting close to 2,000 words, and it’s much of the same. Is that because I’m daft and didn’t notice? No, because it’s very clear that after 2 years, Dell was tired of potential. He declined to pick up the team option on Aminu for next season at $3,749,601 in October 2012. Pick up that option would have allowed the team to make Aminu a restricted free agent in the 2014 offseason with qualifying offer of $5,054,462. Declining that option not only makes Aminu an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but it also limits the salary the Pelicans can offer Aminu this offseason to $3,749,601.

So, if the plan was to cut bait, then it was effective provided he did not pan out. If it was to motivate . . . we’ll see if it worked . . . but if it worked really well, the Pelicans would be very limited in being able to retain him, with the better play by Aminu corresponding to less potential for him to remain in New Orleans while making a rational financial decision with his lifetime earning potential.

2012-2013 Season Overall

Al-Farouq Aminu is arguably the best rebounding small forward in the NBA and is certainly one of the best rebounders among all NBA players.

Aminu has the highest TRB% of any small forward playing at least 500 minutes (this excludes only Tyler Honeycutt and his 32 minutes spread across 9 games), at 16.9%. This also puts him at 34th among the 344 NBA players logging at least 500 minutes, placing him in the top 10% of all such players. This clearly puts him higher than a large number of centers and power forwards, as well.

All of the following considers only players that logged at least 500 minutes unless otherwise specified.

The next best small forwards are Draymond Green at 13.5% (85th overall), Omri Casspi at 13.1% (93rd overall), and Michael kidd-Gilchrist at 12.9% (97th overall). All of the other small forwards check in at under 12% and outside the top 100 in the NBA. Aminu is at least a third better than them.

Restricting the conversation to DRB%, the picture is even better, as this is Aminu’s true strength. He’s still first among small forwards at 26.2%, good for 14th in the NBA, right at the top 4th percentile. Omri Casspi’s 22.7% places him second in the category, 35th overall. Kevin Durant (20.4%, 66th overall), Draymond Green (20.3%, 70th overall), Paul Pierce and Luke Babbit (19.7%, tied for 75th overall) finish up the list of small forwards that are not exceeded by Aminu in DRB% by at least one third. Paul George’s 19% (83rd overall) leads the rest of the small forwards.

Focusing on ORB%, Aminu is third among small forwards with 7.9%, 91st overall, which is just outside the top 25% of NBA players. The small forwards who grab the offensive rebounds at a higher rate are DeMarre Carroll (9.1%, 65th overall) and . . . Lance Thomas (9%, tied for 89th overall with Chris Kaman just ahead of Aminu). Dante Cunningham (7.8%, 97th overall), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (7.2%, tied for 109th overall), Maruice Harkless (7%, tied for 115th overall) are the only small forwards with ORB% over 7%.

Some are more worried about rebounding production more than rebounding efficiency, so let’s look at the bulk production and rates.

In terms of total rebounds, Aminu (585, 32nd overall) trails only Kevin Durant (640, 23rd overall) and Paul George (603, 29th overall). Those two played 3118 minutes and 2972 minutes, respectively, compared to Aminu’s 2066. The only other small forward with over 500 rebounds is Evan Turner with 517 (47th overall) in 2892 minutes. He also led the Hornets in total rebounds.

In terms of per game total rebounds, only Durant (7.9, 31st overall), Aminu (7.7, 35th overall), and George (7.6, 40th overall) have at least 7 rebounds per game as a small forward. In fact, the next highest rebounding small forwards are Deng, Pierce, Turner (6.3), Gay (6.1), and Leonard (6.0). All the rest have fewer than 6 per game. Normalizing to 36 minutes rather than games, Aminu leads small forwards with 10.2 (38th overall). Draymond Green is second with 8.8 (tied for 77th overall).

The defensive and offensive breakdowns are in line with the above, so I won’t belabor the point more than I already have. Aminu is a rebounding machine, especially at his salary.

The other big points raised in the evaluations of Aminu were his defense and shooting.

Defense is a somewhat slippery subject, especially on such poor defensive team, but restricting the conversation to this team at least anchors the discussion. Aminu’s 2.4 DWS lead the team with Anthony Davis’ equal total. His DRtg of 105 trails that only of Davis (104). Additionally, Monty has called him a good individual and team defender, and he is a defensively-minded coach. The team’s defense is poor, but it is fairly well-established that this is due to the guard play.

Then there is shooting. Aminu is known as an inconsistent shooter, but overall . . . he’s just below average. Of the 71 qualifying small forwards, Aminu’s 0.519 ranks him as 38th, which is right around the middle of the pack, and less than 0.01 below the average of that group’s TS%, 0.528, and just over the NBA average TS% of 0.530, among players with at least 500 minutes. So, his shooting really is not that bad. It’s not good, but it’s not bad.

2012-2013 Season Progression

Aminu began the season as the starter, as was expected when the team traded Ariza in the 2012 offseason.

In terms of aggregate play, his WS/48 of 0.073 is higher this season as a starter than in prior seasons (and has increased each year), and the same goes for his PER of 13.7. This is his first season with a positive contribution to Win Shares (0.7 OWS, 2.4 DWS).

His TOV%, STL%, AST%, BLK%, FG%, eFG%, TS% are all the highest of his career while his USG%, 3FG%, and FT% are at their lowest (not by much, and still a 74% free throw shooter). Not all of these are necessarily good numbers, but not all of them are bad. His FG% is actually fairly good. This is not to imply that he’s a marksman. Rather, he’s doing a few things better: He’s being assisted more (so he’s trying to get his own shot less often, being set up more by one of the NBA’s top passers, Greivis Vasquez, and taking advantage of those passes), he’s shooting more inside, and he’s finishing better, even on jump shots.

Also, he per minute stats for rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and turnovers are all at career highs. His scoring has been relatively flat while his attempts have been dropping . . . so he’s been getting more efficient. Not efficient . . . just more efficient.

The season started off well as he had in prior seasons . . . as Grayson noted above . . . and then it took a sharp turn. He missed a total of 6 games and failed to start 5 more, all from December 7th through January 2nd.

Monty on that stretch:

Defend, rebound, run. Seems simple enough.

That’s what New Orleans Hornets coach Monty Williams wanted from Al-Farouq Aminu. Citing the potential of Aminu’s athleticism and his lack of intensity, Williams said he wasn’t getting enough of what he asked from him.

Aminu seemed unsure about what Williams wanted as opposed to what came naturally. So Williams gave him time to think about it.

. . .

“It wasn’t a punishment. We weren’t getting production from that spot, so you try to find somebody else who can,” Williams said. “I just felt like he had to sit for a while to do some soul-searching and understand what I wanted from him at that position.”

. . .

On Jan. 2 against Houston, having observed Aminu in practices and in those short appearances, Williams played him 30 minutes, 50 seconds. Although Aminu had just eight points and eight rebounds, Williams saw what he wanted to see. The defense was there, the energy, the effort.

More important was the mindset transformation.

. . .

“I just focused on (rebounding) more,” he said. “I just wanted to keep bringing that energy level, and good things happen after that.

“At first, I didn’t understand everything I needed to do. I don’t want to get carried away because I’ve had some good games, but I’ve taken some steps in the right direction. I just think you’re learning the things you need to do to become a pro.”

His rebounding, ups and downs totaled, is beyond reproach, so we pick on the shooting.

Here, the deep red are TS% below Aminu’s average TS% of 0.519 down to 0.300, and bright red indicates a TS% at below 0.300. Yellow indicates above average TS% to 0.700, green 0.700 to 1.000, and blue indicates a TS% of above 1, with the colors only being a guide to the eye.

The big empty space shows the games he missed and more, as he just had no shooting or no points in some games.

It takes some staring, but a degree of stability is eventually achieved. In the last 30 games, there are only 3 games with a TS% below 0.300. In those games he averaged just over 18 minutes, took only 13 total shots, and had a TS% of 0.000 only once. While nothing to write home about, this is a notable improvement from what was displayed on the court earlier in the season.

2012-2013 Evaluation

Aminu continued to frustrate fans and coaches, and not just with his bad play, but also with his good play. His energy on the court at times was called into question not only by the lack of energy on the court at other times, but also by his even keel (to say the least) off the court.

With his increased minutes and position in the starting lineup, he established himself as an elite rebounder. His defense was good to start and got better. His shooting got better even though his scoring per minute was unchanged from the prior year and lower than when he was with the Clippers or in college.

His aggregate advanced stats show that he’s become a mid-pack NBA player, though probably a below-average starter. He started, and he was arguably the worst of the top 5 minutes-getters on the Hornets squad (Vasquez, Anderson, Lopez, Aminu, Davis). For his $2,947,800 price, he may still be the worst of those 5 given the great deals Demps has collected, but his production was well worth his contract.

He still, however, elite rebounding included, has not reached that oh-so-discussed potential.

2013-2014 Outlook

Being worth your contract and being worth your next contract are different things. Also, a below-average starter on a team that wins about a third of its games when rebuilding is not necessarily the starter once that team is on firm footing.

And this is where it all comes together: The contract, the role, the potential, the production.

Just what to do with Aminu?

In a vacuum, Aminu’s rebounding and increasing NBA skill ensure that he’ll be an NBA player at the start of next season, and he will not be on a minimum contract of $916,099 for a player with his years in the NBA, given his elite rebounding. His overall game and low scoring indicate that he should receive less than the full mid-level exception value, which is $5.15m.

Transferring that analysis into the NBA’s reality, we see that Aminu will not be a high-profile free agent, so he should not be signed early on, when teams generally have the most cap space.

Also, parts of the CBA that had a 2-year delay before kicking in will kick in. The CBA had an immediate effect on “luxury” players’ salaries, driving their prices down. Aminu would fall into this category at best, a bust at worst, and nominally a player with one great skill who could develop into a dependable all-around player with a specific role on a good team.

These factors lessen the likelihood that he’ll receive a deal near the MLE value. This would indicate that the Pelicans would be a viable suitor for Aminu, should they actually be interested.

I think they will be.

Mason Ginsberg took an early look at what deal Aminu might command and presented a good deal of evidence for his case and several options for the Pelicans.

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.

This is what I keep coming back to. Over and over. This seems like the right deal, give or take. It give Aminu time to mature, but does not lock up him or the team should his progress veer too far from the path. It’s a cap-friendly deal and parallels one on the books for a player the team clearly values highly, so it should not be taken as an insult. Plus, the team is clearly working with him to achieve his stated goal of being small forward despite indications that a power forward role may suit him better, at least on some teams.

If he’ll take a “super seventh” role should the Pelicans land a star small forward, then such a deal would fit everyone’s needs, since he can continue to start while the Pelicans continue to search for their next star, both elsewhere and on their roster.

Check out the entire Season in Review series here at Hornets247.com.

7 comments
cgrand
cgrand

of all the players on the team, AFA is the one that i really wish was better at basketball...cause he could be a beast good article BTW

OkiThor
OkiThor

One thing I noticed about AFA is an inconsistent ability to finish at the rim. Sometimes it makes me wonder does the dude weight lift on game days? Can't finish with jelly arms. If so, maybe he should change up his routine.

504ever
504ever

Aminu is a guy who collects 1/3 of the team's rebounds and steals when he is on the floor, and shot 38% from the corner 3 pointer. I agree Aminu will likely be back in New Orleans next year at a Jason Smith like contract.

mateor
mateor

One of the best posts I have seen on this site. Thanks.

504ever
504ever

I really liked the detail in your article, and I thumbed up the first comment right away.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

I know, I was just horsing around. It's very unlikely for you to have guessed on the key points and mentioned no others unless you read and understood. Some people just loooove comments. In most of my articles, I take a lack of comments as thousands of people saying "yup" with a few atta-boys tossed in or some side coversation that ends up being generated rather than telling me what I forgot or screwed up (maybe).

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