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Video: Analyzing Al-Farouq Aminu’s Jump Shot

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It’s ugly, but Portland will need it if they hope to make noise in the West.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

While Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum get the lion’s share of headlines, Al-Farouq Aminu’s jump shot has made or broken the Portland Trail Blazers’ offense in multiple matchups over the past two seasons. When he has it going from beyond the arc, Aminu opens up the floor for Portland’s stars to do what they do best. When he’s throwing up moon balls without a prayer of going in, defenses can ignore him and Portland’s offense grinds to a halt.

Aminu employs one of the ugliest jump shots in the league and it’s on full display this year; about half his offense comes from spot-up opportunities and he shoots 8 threes per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor.

It’s almost impossible to analyze Aminu’s jumper in comparison with a normal shot because of how strange it is. He brings the ball all the way to his right ear, with his right elbow pointed straight toward the roof, and then launches the ball as if he’s trying to scrape the roof on every shot. He’s clearly a right-eye dominant shooter with a shot that depends heavily on his right arm lining up well with the basket. When he’s open, it looks awful but the results don’t lie: he scored 1.04 points per possession on open catch-and-shoot jumpers last season and is up to 1.6 points per possession this season, albeit on a rather small 60-shot sample. He shoots the ball with confidence when defenses leave him open and has hit more than half of those shots this season, which stretches defenses for the aforementioned Lillard and McCollum.

Take a look at a shot from a recent game against Oklahoma City:

Even when he has to take a quick step to his left because the pass isn’t quite on target, Aminu has no problems in situations like this one. When he’s able to take his time and line everything up, things usually go well. It’s not pretty, but it’s effective.

Still, opposing defenses are mostly happy with helping off him and contesting back out, which affects his shot in a major way. Guarded catch-and-shoot jumpers don’t go nearly as well for Aminu—he’s scored just 0.87 points per possession on those shots so far this season after putting up a paltry 0.82 points per possession last season. Defenders with length often bother him, as they’re able to get their hand in a position to affect the angle of his right elbow and therefore the angle of his overall shot. In the same game against the Thunder, watch how Russell Westbrook’s closeout to his right elbow changes everything about the shot:

With Westbrook closing to the right side of his body, Aminu has to shift his form, moving the ball ever so slightly to his left. Since he normally brings the ball down to his right ear, there’s really nowhere for that ball to go without moving his head, which is what happens just before he shoots in the above clip. With his head tilted and the ball being released further to the left than normal, the shot is nowhere close to the rim and bounces off the top corner of the backboard.

Getting a hand in Aminu’s face alters the vertical aspect of his release point, as it does for most shooters, but it’s more pronounced for him since his shot is already predicated on throwing the ball much higher than his peers. When he’s forced to change the vertical angle on the release to get the ball over the closing defender, it often results in the ball clanging off the front of the rim and out.

Aminu’s outside jumper is a key cog in the Trail Blazers machine offensively because of how much damage Lillard, McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic can do in the paint when they’re undisturbed by help defenders. Aminu has hit on 40 percent of his threes this season but is bolstered by a hot start; he’s made just 30 percent over the last 13 games on similar usage to his season-long numbers. His work on the defensive end makes him a massive part of head coach Terry Stotts’ rotation no matter what percentage he hits on the other side of the floor, but getting closer to the 40-percent shooter he was early in the season will be a massive boost to Portland if they plan to make noise in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.