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)?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’s Advanced Stats
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.