After inking a 4-year, $30-million dollar contract with the Blazers in the summer of 2015, Al-farouq Aminu had a coming out party of sorts in his first season in Portland. He set career highs in points per game, assists per game, 3-pointers made per game, and 3-point percentage, all while also being the best defender on the team.
Aminu’s 2016-17 season saw a bit of a dip in statistical production across the board, but he remained a vital piece to the Blazer team. Essentially, Aminu is so valuable due to his versatility. According to Basketball-Reference.com, after spending roughly 80 percent of his career at the small forward position, Aminu spent around 95 percent of his time on the court this season as the team’s power forward. Aminu spent close to zero percent of his time on the court at the small forward spot this season and instead played the other five percent of his minutes as a center—a position he had previously never played.
With that flexibility, the Blazers were able to play smaller and faster as Aminu could run the floor as a three but successfully defend other team’s power forwards. Defense is where Aminu really makes his impact. Of all the Blazers players, Aminu led the team in defensive win shares. At 6’9” and built with a wingspan like Groot, Aminu is able to switch on to a player of any size and make easy shots hard to come by.
The $30-million contract for Aminu was a borederline steal at the time of the signing, but comparing his value and contract now—with other players around the league and even in the Blazers’ lockeroom—Aminu on such a cheap, depending deal is nearing grand larceny. While Chief doesn’t have a superior offensive game, he is a great teammate, plays hard all the time, and would be an asset on any team.
Aminu was also honored with the 2016-17 Maurice Lucas award, recognizing one Blazer each year for a full effort on and off the court.
While the positives that Aminu brings to the game are easy to see, so are his flaws. Aminu’s shooting will always be his anchor, and NBA defenses are happy to help off of him and watch him shoot those sky-scratching 3-point shots. Al-Farouq can heat up and make a few, but the more likely scenarios are that either Aminu misses, or he feels uncomfortable for being left open and awkwardly passes up open shots, killing the flow the offense.
Aminu has a very good straight-line drive and is usually a good finisher, but this season Aminu shot a career-low of 54 perent on shots within 3 feet of the basket. A portion of that may be due to defenses playing off of him and helping to contain his drive, while preventing easy shots at the rim.
Normally—because Aminu is so long and athletic—his drives to the basket with a full head of steam put the defense in a bad position. But when he is forced to change direction, make quick decisions, or try to pass off the move with defensive pressure, it becomes the Blazers’ offense that’s in a tough spot. His offensive game is still very limited. Aminu was the only player who played over 250 minutes for the Blazers and had a negative offensive win share.
Aminu started 23 of his first 26 games at power forward, but he was eventually sent to the bench in favor of Noah Vonleh. It may have been just to change things up, or may have been to shore up the second-unit defense, but Vonleh gained confidence as a starter and proved to be the better option to start at the game at power forward for the rest of the season. The swap did not change Aminu’s production much, and his minutes coming off of the bench remained almost identical to when he was a starter.
At this point, Aminu is what he is; he's going to work hard, be a guy you can count on defensively, and a good guy in the lockeroom, but he also makes you hold your breath every time he attempts a shot or takes more than three dribbles.
He may even cause a grey hair or two.
But that’s what you get with Chief. Hopefully his 3-point shot will return to its 2015-16 form, but even if it doesn’t, the Blazers are paying less than one fourteenth of their overall budget to a player who plays the fourth most minutes on the team, which is a huge value to an organization with the second highest payroll in the NBA.