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Al-Farouq Aminu Giving Shooting Help that Lillard, McCollum Need

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The forward, allergic to the three-point line earlier in his career, has blossomed into a dependable shooter this season.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

One revelation for the Portland Trail Blazers this season is Al-Farouq Aminu’s emergence as a true shooting threat. When he catches the ball on the perimeter, fans actually expect him to make it, which hasn’t always been the case. Take Game 1 against the Clippers in the 2016 playoffs: he missed six of his eight 3-pointers as L.A. dared him to beat them (he did not).

This year, Aminu is averaging 9.5 points while shooting a career-best 39.3 percent from three. Unsurprisingly, his best shooting season yet corresponds with a major effort to shoot the 3-pointer, supporting the team’s dynamic backcourt.

More Shots, Right Spots

Aminu has overhauled his approach to the 3-point line since joining Portland. Per Basketball-Reference’s shooting data, he’s taking a career-high rate of threes this season, with 56.9 percent of all his field goal attempts coming from deep. That represents a vast departure from all non-Portland years, where he never posted above 35.2 percent. One year he shot a minimal 4 percent of all field goals coming from three (meaning 96 percent of his field goals were of the two-point variety).

Repetition may be helping Aminu’s cause. In addition to taking more threes by percentage than ever before, he’s almost at a career high in total shots attempted. This might not automatically translate to better shooting numbers from beyond the arc, but it probably isn’t hurting either. As he told Cody Sharrett ahead of that 2016 Clippers series:

”[Teams] double CJ and Dame a lot. They just want me to stand there and make open shots, so hopefully I can continue to do that… I don’t like for teams to disrespect me, so to say, you know what I mean? Not that they are doing that, but when you’re doubling somebody to the point where you’re just leaving somebody else open, I feel like any NBA player wants to be able to step up and prove that team wrong.”

Mapping the Change

When comparing his best shooting season (this year) to his worst shooting season (2012-13 with the New Orleans Hornets), the change in mentality is staggering. These heat maps courtesy of NBAsavant.com illustrate that:

2012-13

2012-13 courtesy of NBAsavant.com

2017-18

2017-18 courtesy of NBAsavant.com

Watching the Change

Watching the Clipper series as a Blazers fan may have been frustrating to watch. You could expect to see something like this (from 2015):

Open to mostly open misses like those are sure to get in Aminu’s head, and his teammates as well, who have to believe in him to make the shot when making the extra pass. But now, he’s capitalizing on open threes generated for him:

He’s even finding ways to compose himself on the move and knock down threes:

And when he’s hitting from the 3-point line, opponents have to honor the threat he proposes, which can lead to shots at the rim — often an adventure with Aminu:

Can He Keep it Up?

Aminu is still not above an ugly miss, either. As Jeff Siegel here at Blazer’s Edge showed in his analysis of Aminu’s shot, defenses can easily spook him. Catching this low pass from Jusuf Nurkic doesn’t help:

Hitting open shots in the regular season is swell and all, but those open shots will be much less frequent in the playoffs, which the Blazers are in position to make at this moment.

As Aminu told Sharrett, teams like to double-team the two cogs on offense in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. We’ve already seen those two get hampered by long, aggressive defenders this season. And we’ve seen the offense crater when that happens. If Aminu can hit shots, he will alleviate pressure from the Big Two and Portland’s offense will open up. That could prove the difference in a playoff series.