Should Al-Farouq Aminu be considered for the NBA All-Defensive teams?
If you ask the man himself, the answer is pretty obvious.
While Aminu isn't known to be the biggest talker in interview sessions, he has always been, if nothing else, bold and forthright. So it's not exactly surprising that Aminu would tag his Instagram posts "#defensive1stteam." Aminu seems to be a man who likes to channel his inner Joe Friday and go with his version of "just the facts, ma'am."
If you're not yet familiar with the impact that Aminu can have defensively here's a quick refresher:
Back in January Blazersedge.com's own David MacKay had this quote from Aminu regarding his defense:
"My goal every year is to be a defensive player of the year. I want to be first team, second team, third team, something like that. I want it to be known that I'm a great defender and I want the league to recognize that. I want to be able to guard, not a lot of people can do that in the league, but to be able to guard one through, like, basically almost five. There's a couple of fives probably I can't guard, but for the most part, one through four and maybe some fives sometimes; at least for a possession. Maybe not the whole game, but if that possession happens, I need to be able to do what I need to be able to do."
While his opinion is certainly valid and valued it's not the most objective. For that we have some statistical comparisons to look at. Because as you know, numbers never lie:
Here you can see how Aminu stacks up against some of his contemporaries and competitors for the All-Defensive teams.
A preface for Points Per Possession (PPP) is always needed, particularly when referencing defensive numbers. Defense is still difficult to wholly quantify on an individual level, however the stats are still valuable when you factor in both individual and team concepts, as shown above.
Here you can see that Aminu, despite having a lower rated team PPP in nearly every statistic, still stands out as a positive. It's important to note this distinction because so many of the available advanced defensive stats weigh heavily on the team component. Particularly those teams that have good to great interior defense. While there may be talk of the death of the big man, work is being done to suggest that defensively minded bigs are still incredibly valuable in today's NBA.
Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com released his choice for the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award (ESPN Insider access required) as well as his selections for the NBA All-Defensive teams, and unsurprisingly his choice for DPoY is Kawhi Leonard - deservedly so. Leonard's year has been pretty ridiculous no matter how you slice it. And if not for Steph Curry putting up historic numbers and the Golden State Warriors' pursuit of 73 wins, we would all be talking about Leonard's MVP crowning.
One of Pelton's choices at forward for All-Defensive Second Team is Paul George, who he points out has some pretty decent support.
"Quietly, the Pacers have the league's third-best defense a year after trading former Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Roy Hibbert. Several players deserve credit, including Ian Mahinmi in his role as Hibbert's replacement (more on him later).
However, none deserves more credit than George. He returned from a serious leg injury without missing a beat and continues to take his role as defender seriously, despite his rise as a go-to scorer."
Pelton rounds out his Honorable Mention selections with Jae Crowder of the Boston Celtics, Andre Igoudala of the Warriors, and Thabo Sefolosha of the Atlanta Hawks. In his breakdown he again notes the distinction that players are part of a top-tier team defense.
But isn't this award about the best individual defensive players?
There's merit in rewarding players who bolster a team so much defensively that the units themselves become elite, as is the case with Leonard. However, there's more at work for the Georges, Crowders, and Sefoloshas of the world.
Would George stand out so much defensively if not for the work of Ian Mahinmi, who rates in the 72nd percentile on a PPP basis? Does Sefolosha look as fantastic without the aid of Jeff Teague (90th percentile) on the perimeter and Al Horford (81st percentile) and Paul Millsap (64th percentile) inside? How about Igoudala without Klay Thompson (54th percentile), Draymond Green (89th percentile), and Andrew Bogut (71st percentile)?
This isn't to say that Igoudala, Crowder, and Sefolosha aren't great defenders - it just feels that the justification for their individual greatness is being boosted by their team's distinction of being good defensively.
Al-Farouq Aminu is putting up good to great individual numbers with Damian Lillard (23rd percentile) and CJ McCollum (30th percentile) on the perimeter and Mason Plumlee (43rd percentile) inside.
Aminu's feats seem to be downplayed because those around him are subpar defensively. On a nightly basis he's typically tasked with the toughest assignment for a significant portion of the game, and in the closing minutes he'll most certainly take on that task.
The other argument that Pelton uses throughout his piece relies on a metric, DRPM, a stat that attempts to be the "go-to defensive stat," but has real problems because the formula itself is proprietary, and I can't get behind it fully without seeing everything involved.
To put this metric more simply (and to note one of the things that seems extremely wrong), of the Top 80 rated players in the NBA by DRPM, only nine of them are small forwards. Also, aside from Ed Davis (who ranks No. 21 overall) Channing Frye has a better DRPM than any other Blazer. Let that sink in for a second. Channing. Frye. It also lists Kevin Garnett No. 8 overall (yes, the 39-year-old version) and David Lee ahead of everyone the Blazers have to offer - save Davis and Mason Plumlee. So excuse me if I don't immediately hop on the DRPM band wagon.
With all of that in mind let's look at how Aminu has done in head-to-head matchups against some of the best the league has to offer:
It's been pretty well documented that in their two matchups this season, Aminu absolutely shut down Paul George. The old saying "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me," comes to mind here.
As you can see, Aminu held all but Draymond Green below their scoring averages. All but Leonard were held below their field goal percentage averages, and Aminu stifled all but Green in the rebound and assist categories.
It's worth noting that in the blowout losses to the Warriors, Green stayed in much longer and "added" to his stats late into the night (more on that another time).
While defense is typically attributed to team and individual matchups, defensive rebounding is often overlooked when rating individual defenders.
Among starting forwards in the league who play more than 20 minutes a night, Aminu rates No. 12 in defensive rebounding percentage, but it's a bit of an obscure stat that doesn't really capture the totality of his rebounding prowess.
NylonCalculus.com has a great metric they've built to measure rebounding (the particulars can be found at the bottom of the this page).
Here's a quick look at how Aminu again stacks up against the competition:
Essentially what this says is that Aminu is very active on the boards. The "Chase %" means he is constantly challenging and fighting for rebounds. You'll notice that he has the highest chase percentage among the four. He also rates very well in the win percentage category.
For context, there are only seven players who have the same or higher chase percentage with a higher win percentage: Hassan Whiteside, Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, Kenneth Faried, DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, and Luis Scola.
Basically, while Aminu doesn't put up the most ridiculous raw defensive rebounding numbers, he gets after it often and wins more than most.
Another factor that should be considered is Aminu's ability to alter shots at the rim. He's every bit of 6-foot-8 on the court and he has an astounding wingspan that stretches just over 7-foot-3.
To put that in perspective, Kevin Durant, AKA "The Durantula," has a 7-foot-4 wingspan. Aminu utilizes that length to alter shots frequently, posting Top 5-10 numbers across the board from the data that NylonCalculus has available (Note: the web service that provided shot location/defender location was disabled Jan. 23 and has since not been restored, so all data for rim protection is updated through the third week of January).
For those who like the visual aid to help them on their way, there's also this.
What's truly incredible is that Aminu posted those number BEFORE the Blazers really got their act together defensively. It was about the time they started to flex their muscle on that end of the floor.
To further illustrate how effective on the defensive end Aminu has been, you needn't look further than how often he generates turnovers. According to SynergySportsTech, possessions that involve Aminu as the primary defender end in a turnover a whopping 12 percent of the time. For comparison's sake, Kawhi Leonard sits at 10.8 percent, Paul George 13.7 percent, Jae Crowder 8.3 percent, and Thabo Sefolosha 14 percent.
Again, Aminu is right there in the thick of things.
When everything is considered, the chances for Aminu to make the All-Defensive team are probably incredibly slim. Those who have a vote will most likely carry on with this traditionally held equation:
Box score stats + Team Defense Ranking + Team Record + National Press Coverage/Narrative = NBA All-Defensive Team vote.
Which, when it's all said and done, means Aminu will more than likely be left out in the cold - his contributions left unnoticed by the national media for yet another year.
Should he be considered? Absolutely. The wealth of supporting data that suggests he's in the upper tier of NBA defenders is nearly overwhelming.
Will he win? Probably Not.
And while Aminu may not achieve his goal of making one of the NBA's All-Defensive teams just yet, he can most assuredly check one box off his wish list: the league is most definitely taking notice.