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Blazers Top 100: Chief Protects the Court

A look at the 100 players and personnel who have influenced the Trail Blazers’ 50-year history.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.

No. 72 | Al-Farouq Aminu

Games Played with Blazers: 293 Regular Season, 35 Postseason

*PTS: 9.5 | REB: 7.1 | FG%: 41.1 | 3PT%: 35.3

*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland

Joined Club: July 2015, signed as free agent

Departed Club: July 2019, departed via free agency

Place in History: If #73 entry Nick Van Exel was Portland’s ultimate example of the hired gun, Al-Farouq Aminu is the counterpoint: a steady hand made good. Aminu joined the Blazers in 2015 with five relatively-undistinguished years under his belt. His shooting percentages ranged from good to terrible. His three-point percentage was just terrible. He had athleticism but not great handles or footspeed. His calling card was probably defense, but even that was up and down, in part due to inexperience, in part due to playing on so-so teams. When he parlayed an underrated career capped by one underappreciated season in Dallas into a four-year contract with the Blazers, people scratched their heads.

In Portland, Aminu found stability and, after a shakedown season at small forward, a permanent role as a starting four. Faced up against a new breed of power forward, more interested in facing up and shooting than punishing on the block, Aminu began to develop his signature defensive style. As a power forward, he could get to shooters before the release while still staying in front of them off the bounce. If he occasionally got tasked with guarding wings, well...he could do that too. Whomever Head Coach Terry Stotts sent him against, Aminu would take on. He became the pivot point for a defense that improved enough to make the Blazers a respectable playoffs team in the West. They had always been able to score; now they could win.

In the process, Aminu developed enough of a three-point shot to keep opposing defenses honest—for the most part. Mired around 27% from the arc the two seasons prior to arriving in Portland, he shot to 36% in his first tour with the Blazers, remaining at a 35% average during his tenure. If he didn’t have to dribble or dodge, he could produce.

Aminu wasn’t a cure-all. Portland hit a glass ceiling with him as a key part of the lineup. Opponents would happily cede him all the shots and defense he could provide in the playoffs, knowing they could work around him (and that Portland wouldn’t win from him shooting long balls). As soon as he left the team, though, chaos ensued. Injuries to other frontcourt players contributed, but the Blazers had left on the floor suddenly looked rudderless on defense. There were no more delays, nobody to cover the arc, no barriers between drivers and the last-ditch defender at the rim. The Blazers became a bike missing one set of brakes. You don’t notice it until you pull the same lever you’ve always pulled and nothing happens.

Slow and steady may not always win the race, but steady defense never hurts. For providing that over 300 games, Al-Farouq Aminu gets the 72nd spot on our Trail Blazers Top 100 countdown.

Check back every day as we continue the countdown to No. 1!