Exit Interviews: Al-Farouq Aminu
Al-Farouq Aminu reflects on his 2014-15 season with the Mavs.
You don’t often see an NBA player endear himself to an entire fan base after just one season, especially one in which he didn’t play much toward the beginning of the year. But that’s exactly what happened for Al-Farouq Aminu in the 2014-15 season.
After sitting outside the rotation for much of the early parts of the campaign, Aminu eventually seized control of the backup forward spot and never let it go, energizing not only the crowd, but also his teammates when he was on the floor. He flew everywhere, swatting shots, swiping the ball from confused opponents, and eating glass.
All of these are traits you’d expect to read about a grizzled center of the ’90s. But Aminu is 6′ 9″, 215 pounds. He’s not supposed to be able to do what he does, but he does it anyway. And he’s awfully good at it.
Based off his basic numbers, you might be thinking “OK, what the heck is so impressive about this guy?” He didn’t even score six points per game, after all, and was a sub-30 percent three-point shooter. The answer is pretty simple, if maybe even unsatisfying: Aminu does things that can’t really be measured. He’s not going to dazzle you with a 20-point outing every few nights, and he’s not going to pull down 12 rebounds a night or block three shots. But what he will do for you is score some points, get some rebounds, block a shot or two, and get a steal or two. He’ll run the floor like crazy. He’ll defend with more energy than anyone else on the floor, and it’s not even close. These are all extremely valuable traits that don’t quite show up on paper.
For what it’s worth, there are stats that can help to quantify Aminu’s contributions to the team. He posted career-high individual offensive and defensive ratings this season, according to Basketball-Reference (107 and 102, respectively) and his .115 win shares per 48 minutes is also a career-best mark. So, too, were all of the following: PER, free throw rate, offensive rebound rate, steal percentage, block percentage, turnover percentage, and win shares.
His individual numbers leap off the page compared to his past performance. So what changed? Other than environment and his surrounding teammates, which plays a much larger role in a player’s success than we often think, Aminu spent 46 percent of his minutes at the power forward spot and another seven percent playing center, both career-highs by a wide margin. That not only spaced the floor for other shooters to find open shots, but also allowed Aminu to defend closer to the rim, giving him more opportunities to block shots and attack the glass, two things he’s very good at for any NBA player, regardless of size. Dallas was 5.8 points per 100 possessions better than the opponent with Aminu on the floor this season, per Basketball-Reference.
Aminu Throws It Down
Al-Farouq Aminu throws down the slam dunk late in the game.
If there’s one Aminu performance you could watch until the end of time, you’d choose his showing in Game 4 against Houston. He scored 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-5 from deep, and added 12 boards and a block, all while limiting James Harden to 24 points on 7-of-15 shooting. That might not sound great, but only six of Harden’s shots were “uncontested,” per NBA.com, hugely improved over the 14 he saw in Game 3.
That huge shift was planned. Aminu got the start in Game 4 after coming off the bench in Game 3. It was primarily Monta Ellis who defended Harden in Game 3, and both players were working so hard at either end to carry their own offense that defense wasn’t either’s focal point. Aminu, though, takes pride in making life difficult for star wings, and he’s got the physical tools to do so.
That single gif is worthy of 1,000 words. This is James Harden, MVP runner-up, megastar, getting his layup attempt off a drive sent 25 feet toward the sideline by his own man. It’s absurd. No player should be able to defend like that, but Aminu can.
He brought it all in Game 4, on both ends. That’s all you can ask for.
Aminu has a player option for next season, but he’s already said publicly that he plans to opt out of his deal to test the free agent market. However, that does not rule out a return to Dallas. The forward said he’s enjoyed his time here, and he certainly improved as the season went on, indicating that he worked with the coaches to better his game. Those are relationships that can influence a player’s offseason decision-making.
Next season will be Aminu’s sixth in the league, but he’ll only be 25 on opening night. He’s still just a pup as NBA players go, and he has plenty of potential yet to realize. He’s sure to have plenty of interested suitors this offseason after his breakout campaign, particularly in the playoffs when he averaged 11.2 points on 54.8/63.6 shooting with 7.2 rebounds, 2.0 steals, and 1.6 blocks. He was a monster, and the league has taken notice.
He’s the type of player coaches crave, as he’s already good enough at so many things to deserve playing time, but he’s also got a lot of room for improvement when it comes to three-point shooting and some other more technical things on the offensive end. Still, even if he doesn’t improve his shooting much (though I believe he certainly will) he’ll still have a really nice NBA career. There aren’t many players with his combination of motor and pure athleticism. He’s a beast.