Season in Review: Al-Farouq Aminu

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Published: May 6, 2014
Al Farouq Aminu

Before the start of Anthony Davis’s first season, our own Jason Calmes and I had a talk about Monty Williams. It was regarding his ability to develop players, and whether he deserved a contract extension. We talked about his ability to have fringe guys become rotation players in the league (Marco Belinelli), but how do you really measure the capability of growing your own players?Eventually we settled on Al-Farouq Aminu as the benchmark.

Here was a guy drafted in the lottery based on potential and athletic ability. If Monty could take him from, essentially, the fifth best starter on the team to a solid contributor then maybe, maybe, it answers that question. We had a working title of “An 82 Game Interview.”

The more I think about it though, think that title fits for Aminu himself over his coach. Here we are; Aminu’s third season in New Orleans. Is he the small forward answer going forward? Or is it time to cut ties? Let’s take a look.

Where He Started

Near the start of the 2012-2013 season the then-Hornets declined their 3.75 million team option on Aminu making him an unrestricted free agent. No one else came calling and the now-Pelicans signed him for a 1 year deal worth 3.7 million. Upon signing the deal, Aminu became the presumed starter at small forward.

Potentially a slight overpay given what Aminu brings to the table, but it was only for one year, and the team had room, and now we’re in the same position we were as last summer. Namely, do the Pelicans resign Aminu (again)?

Rebounding

No doubt about it; Aminu can rebound. The Chief ranked in the top 25 forwards in defensive rebound percentage at 21.3% and the top 50 at offensive rebound percentage at 7.1%. Now that counts all power forwards as well as small forwards. Aminu played 23% of his minutes at the 4 this season, compared to only 5% last year (according to basketball-reference.com), so it’s worth lumping all forwards together.

There is a slight pause for concern though as Aminu had a 2.8% drop in total rebound percentage. Honestly, at first I thought no big deal. Aminu played with Davis in four of his five most used lineups. But Davis didn’t really see a change in his rebounding percentage, and thus, according to the data, didn’t take away from Aminu’s rebounding chances. Well, maybe he got out in transition more and wasn’t trying to grab boards? However, he actually finished a play in transition 4% less of the time according to mySynergySports.

That’s…not good. Maybe opponents shot better this season compared to last? Nope, a 6% decrease in opponent shooting percentage (hooray for small miracles!). Okay, so what is it then?

It looks as if the Pelicans as a team were a much worse rebounding team this year compared to last, letting opponents grab more offensive and defensive rebounds. That’s as a team and not solely a reflection on Aminu. He’s still a tremendous rebounder. But for a free agent who hangs his hat on rebounding, seeing those numbers go in the opposite direction is a concern.

Turnovers

Let’s be happy for a moment: Aminu cut his turnovers down! Yay! He’s still not a good ballhandler but I no longer grimaced when he caught the ball and dribbled. Backhanded compliment, yes, but that’s actually important. His 13.7 turnover percentage is 4.1% better than last season. Going along with this, Aminu assisted on more made baskets than he had in any of his other years in the league. Creating offense as opposed to stopping it. I’m all for that.

Defense

Still good. Aminu’s long arms allow him to disrupt opponent passing lanes and create transition offense for the Pelicans. Additionally his athleticism allows him to guard the opponent’s best wing player. He’s not an elite stopper but certainly more than serviceable, and he finished second on the team in defensive win shares only to Anthony Davis.

Staying On The Court

This may be the most underrated aspect of Aminu as a player and I mean that in all seriousness. 80 games played this season, 25.6 minutes per game, 65 starts. Last season: 76 games played, 27.2 mpg, 71 starts. His first season in New Orleans: 66 games played (all of them during the lockout shortened year), 22.4 mpg, 21 starts.

Simply put, night in night out you know he’s going to play. Night in night out you know what he’s going to give you. For a coach that’s incredibly important. It helps with lineup choices, how many minutes to give other guys. His consistency to simply stay on the court and out of a suit is incredibly valuable.

The Bad

Aminu is not a good shooter. I cannot put it nicer than that. It was a problem this year and it will be an even bigger problem in future seasons.

I want you to look at the following shot chart.

Aminu Distribution This is Aminu’s shot distribution. Ignore the blue area on the left corner. Aminu attempts a corner three every now and then but we know he’s not good at it. The only other area that’s blue is right under the basket. Aminu took 63.16% of his shots there. Normally, this would be something that would make us at Bourbon Street Shots happy. Interior shots usually have a much higher percentage to go in. But take a look at another shot chart.

Aminu Shot Performance This is Aminu’s shooting percentage from the same zones. In the restricted area, the spot where Aminu basically takes all his attempts, he only shoots 56.09%. That’s about average league wide. For a good offensive rebounder, Aminu only scores 0.98 points per play after grabbing a board. That’s good for 122nd in the league. And the only other area where Aminu took more than 25 attempts the whole season? Well, he shot 34.29% from the right elbow area.

Aside from just not being a good shooter this caused problems for the Pelicans’ offense.

First: because they know he’s not a threat to score unless he’s near the basket (and even then not a big one), teams can do one of two things. They either hide their worst defender on Aminu, potentially taking away a mismatch the Pelicans might have had. Or they leave him open altogether and double team another player. Gerry V. loves to say guys that can’t shoot are always open, and Aminu is open from mid range a lot. Anthony Davis, who will be the focal point of the offense, is going to get double teamed constantly. By playing Aminu, Monty Williams and company are just making it easier for the opponent to do so.

Second: floor spacing. Zach Lowe did a tremendous job outlining what the Pelicans’ offense might look like next year, saying

“The Pelicans envision Davis as the fulcrum of their offense in the mode of a prime Dirk. They want Davis to get the ball in the center of the foul line, face the defense, and operate from there with shooters around him.”

Some of those players are in place but Lowe continues,

“Even at full health, the Pelicans have mostly started a small forward who can’t shoot in Al-Farouq Aminu and a rotating collection of stiffs at center who mostly just foul and get in Davis’s way.”

Giving Davis a clear path to attack the rim, whether in isolation or off the pick and roll, is going to be central to what the Pelicans want to do next year. Unless he develops a consistent jumper, Aminu kills the Pelicans’ floor spacing be needing to be near the basket to score.

How Did Aminu Do In His Season Long Interview?

What the Pelicans have is a player who rebounds incredibly well and does a few other thing semi-okay. But they already have an elite rebounder and the semi-okay things don’t make up for the fact that the Pelicans’ offense hits the bricks when Aminu is on the court.

For the season, the Pelicans were outscored by 254 points when Aminu was inside the white lines. That’s 6 points per 48 minutes. The Pelicans’ eFG% improved with him on the bench. To make it even worse opponents’ eFG% actually dropped nearly two percent when Aminu was out of the game.

Aminu just hasn’t improved and reached the potential he had when he came into the league. Look at his advanced and per 36 minute numbers over his career. It largely looks the same.

Aminu Advanced Stats

Aminu’s Advanced Stats

Aminu per 36

Aminu’s Per 36

Yet, despite everything I’ve seen over the past two years, I still am struggling with the question above. Aminu obviously didn’t pass. But for some reason there is hesitation in saying that. Maybe it’s because he’s been here for three seasons and it’s tough to say the team should simply boot him. Maybe it’s the rebounding. Or maybe I simply really want to believe in the potential he showed when he was drafted and later traded to New Orleans.

But at a certain point the word potential goes from a good term to one that leaves a feeling of disappointment. Now a free agent, it’s up to Dell Demps and the rest of the organization to decide if Aminu is past that crossroads.

For all of our already published Season In Review pieces, click here. 

15 comments
eMariii123
eMariii123

If we do bring back Aminu, It should just be to have him as the 12th or 13th man to play short minutes in a small-ball, up-and-down lineup.

However, in my opinion I think the ideal situation regarding the SF position this summer is that we receive a TPE for Aminu, which we use to acquire Jared Dudley from the Clippers, and sign PJ Tucker using the full MLE. This team needs as many floor spacers as they can get, and having two SFs on the roster who can not only shoot, but play defense as well would be a luxury.

LaNative
LaNative

He is athletic and rebounds but brings very little else to the table and is showing NO improvement.  It's time to let him walk....

PelicanSaints
PelicanSaints

I would hope that Dell will let him walk....The negatives in his game out weigh the positives.

Caffeinedisaster
Caffeinedisaster

He rebounds and not much else without any signs of improvement in other areas.

We can get a "Reggie Evans" type for much cheaper.


CUT HIM LOOSE!

thouse
thouse

Good write up. Aminu has not developed the way we all hoped he would. The team clearly needs help on the wings.

That said, Aminu can be useful w/ limited minutes and w/ the right lineups. Box Score Geeks rates him out around 20th (even higher with minutes thresholds) among combined SF/PF in WP/48 and the best non Davis regular on the Pelicans. Those numbers aren't sacrosanct, but neither are traditional box score numbers.

He is either a small ball 4 or he needs to be paired with a stretch big if they want effective lineups with him. That didn't happen much this season. I'm fine bringing him back if they understand who he is and what he can do.

504ever
504ever

@thouse  

Agree. Aminu will play in this league for a long time.  I personally hope we sign him to a reasonable contact as a high quality 2nd team player you can insert with the starters for strategic reasons like playing small ball.  Aminu is useful piece for a playoff team.   (Look at the line-up fine tuning going in these playoffs.)  

Aminu is a quality small ball 4 whose strengths include defending, (elite) rebounding and running, and those three compliment each other.  Your team has to play defense and rebound to run.  Imagine a 2nd team with Withey, Aminu, Morrow, Rivers, and Pierre Jackson.  That 2nd team can play defense, rebound and run, and has spot up perimeter shooters.

Jake Madison
Jake Madison

What I'm constantly confused by is why there is a lot of Aminu needs to play the 4 talk when there is little evidence to back this up.

Offensively, he struggles with a post up game scoring 0.68 points per play. He can maybe be okay as the roll man in the pick and roll but I'd worry about him getting the ball before the restricted area. There is a reason he only spends a quarter of his time there this season--and I think that rose so dramatically compared to last year because of all the injuries.

Defensively, he struggles against bulkier forwards. He's a terrible post up defender giving up 0.9 ppp which ranks him 173rd best. He's alright in the pick and roll D. In isolation he ranks 258. Accoring to 82games.com he allows an opponent PF PER of 23.1. The league average is 15.

Even worse, during his time at PF opponents outscore the Pelicans 13.9 points per 48 minutes. Compared to the 4.6 they outscore the team by when he plays the 3.

I didn't talk much about him at the 4 spot in the review because, frankly, just no.

504ever
504ever

@Jake Madison  

To continue, my vision is we sign a starting SF with a 3 pt shot within our cap space this offseason.  Aminu returns, so Miller gets a non-guaranteed contract.  

There is no help at starting C coming this off season.  The guys on the roster, Ajinca and Withey, will be given a shot there.  (Withey as back-up.)  

Smith possibly returns on a $2.5M 1 year deal, his injuries make anything else unwise.  Maybe Roberts, too.  Who else we can get comes into play here.

We are a playoff team with room for a  quality starting C FA in 2015.  Some C we want also wants us at that time.  Then the real fun starts.

504ever
504ever

@Jake Madison @504ever  

I think we agree much more than we disagree.  [It looks like thouse and I are on the same page.]  I don't see Aminu as a starter.  I see him a quality back-up who also can be a 'change of pace' player as a small ball 4 with the starters. in the "chessmatches" of playoff series, Aminu is a nice piece to be able to inset into the game strategically.  

A 2 year contract to get his cap number down and have a good contract to trade, if desired, after a season works for me as well as a 1 year deal.

Jake Madison
Jake Madison

@504ever @Jake Madison  Also remember how quickly that version of Aminu fizzled after about 10 or so games? Aminu's length and athleticism help he defend on the perimeter, but interior defense is still a problem. That's going to be an issue going against a guy like David West.

Ultimately it comes down to the dollar amount, if he's cheap enough and on a one year deal I say bring him back. But the Pelicans are crazy if they don't try and upgrade the position by bringing in another starter.

Jake Madison
Jake Madison

@thouse  First, that was the best response I've heard about Aminu at the the 4.

I wouldnt say 500 minutes is that small but certainly not a large enough one. Still, it's what we have to go by and all we can do is evaluate what we have. Thus, I think it's fair to make a conclusion based on the available data.

For the rest of that part, you raise a bigger point than simply should he play the 4? It comes down to lineups, regardless of position. If Aminu isn't on the floor with the right lineup then who cares what position he plays, it wont work.

I think we agree on most of the rest. He shouldn't be a starter. That's the bigger issue.

504ever
504ever

@adfly  

I'll continue to offer my opinions, and defer to you for mind reading and predicting the future.

thouse
thouse

@Jake Madison

A couple of points:

1. 500 minutes is a small sample. Of those minutes, how many were directly filling in for an injured Davis as a starting pf? How many were playing next to Davis or even Anderson at the 5? Aminu with any of the other center options, save maybe Smith, is suicide with this roster.

2. Speaking for myself, I don't care about Aminu's post up game. At the 4, I'm not looking for him to do any thing like that. I'm thinking a very, very, very poor man's version of Shawn Marion in Phoenix. Aminu as a 4 makes no sense unless you speed up the game. He will be murdered as a 4 in grind it out game.

3. Post defense is a problem. That's why you deploy him there v second units or just as a tempo change guy; not to start or even every game, if the matchup isn't there. We rarely saw it (5 minutes total) but Aminu/Davis/Evans/Gordon/Holiday is an intriguing unit. Aminu/Anderson/Evans/Morrow/Rivers has potential as a small ball second unit too.

Bottom line, Aminu should be a 20MPG guy. He's not a make or break player, but he does have use. There should be more thought and flexibility in how he is deployed

adfly
adfly

No. Just no! Tired of aminu. If he is on the team, Monty will start him over the 3 we will pick up this summer, because he wants a defensive minded people starting. Our offense will suffer, and we'll be out the playoffs another year. Then we will talk about how it was a mistake to sign him and extending Monty.

504ever
504ever

@Jake Madison  

To me it is the eye test.  Remember Aminu running the floor early in the season?  Out quicking other 3s and out running nearly everyone in transition?  Those are nice skills to have in an elite rebounder.  Aminu's length helps him defend on the perimeter and Withey is a shot blocker to back Aminu up.  

I'm not saying I know I am right, just that I want to see games, and then statistics, on this team when everyone is healthy and in their most appropriate positions next year.  There is a lot of experimentation to still be done next season.  I believe Aminu at the 4 is one of them.  Animu at the 3 on defense and the 4 on offense because he is paired with a stretch 4 (who plays 3 on offense and 4 on defense) is another option I would like to see.

My bottom line?  There are 1 year contracts (around $3M) and 2 year contracts (totaling around $5M) I would sign Amniu to.  (And I'd probably sign Aminu before Smith or Roberts, both of whom could have rolls on this team, too.)  What about you?

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