ESPN senior writer Zach Lowe periodically praises a Portland Trail Blazer in his “Ten Things I Like and Don’t Like” column. In December, Lowe highlighted Maurice Harkless’ post-up game. In January, he applauded C.J. McCollum‘s pull-up jumper prowess. But today’s Trail Blazer landed on the naughty list. During the 2015-16 season, power forward Al-Farouq Aminu made seemingly lasting strides as a 3-point shooter, only to take a significant step back this year:
Uh oh. Aminu's pointy-elbowed fling has regressed back to the point where you can almost hear the ball screaming, "WHERE AM I GOING? I AM VERY HIGH IN THE AIR AND IT SEEMS LIKE I'M HEADED FOR THE BACKBOARD! HELP!!!!!!"
Opponents always sag off Aminu, but Portland could live with it last season, when he hit 36 percent from deep. Now that he's down to 30 percent, defenders have taken an extra step away to clog the paint on Portland's dynamo guards. Even worse, Aminu is hesitating on wide-open triples, and forcing head-long drives into crowds. He is a chunk of debris clanging around the gears of Portland's motion offense.
The Blazers need good Aminu; he's by far their best option at power forward, and their defense cratered without him early in the season.
Now, studying Aminu’s shot is somewhat of a practice facility pastime for me, primarily because he frequently stays after for 3-point drills or individual repetitions, and his form is mesmerizing. The way the back of his shooting hand nearly taps his trapezius muscle as he loads the trebuchet against his ear; the way his support hand is placed atop the ball, fingers curling limply upon release; the way both arms hang high in the air as if he’d batted a beach ball at a crowded concert—In a way, I love it. It’s like the last dilapidated 1930s house in an otherwise developing neighborhood.
Farouq getting reps in the corner. pic.twitter.com/1HYcTd94T0— David MacKay (@DavidMacKayNBA) January 28, 2017
Of course, Aminu’s awkward 3-point shooting can be damaging, as Lowe suggested. The Trail Blazers need Aminu to be a perimeter threat so Damian Lillard and McCollum have a little more space on their path to the rim. If opponents give Aminu an open look in favor of crowding that path, he needs to properly capitalize. But when the “pointy-elbowed fling” doesn’t fall, sometimes the team does. As a mild corollary (not to ignore other team issues), Portland is 1-5 in games where Aminu has made 0 threes with three or more attempts.
It should be noted that Aminu has shot a robust 37.3 percent from deep since head coach Terry Stotts moved him to the bench, which is actually just between what McCollum (41.4 percent) and Lillard (35.5 percent) are shooting on the season. That stretch is represented by a fairly significant sample size of 14 games, so for all the funkiness of Aminu’s form and hesitation, his shot can be effective. Although the difference between “can be effective” and “is reliable” is where other teams take advantage.
Aminu’s 3-point shooting will remain something to watch through cracks between fingers as the Trail Blazers close out the season. The pronounced arc is like to come with fitting highs and lows, punctuating each breathtaking flight with nylon or back-iron. Fortunately, Aminu is not the linchpin of Portland’s offense. Yet it would certainly help the Trail Blazers if his delivery from distance commanded more respect from the defense.