Aminu Steal and Slam

Al-Farouq Aminu picks off the pass and takes it the other way for the flush.

One of the final pieces the Mavericks added during the busy summer of 2014 was one of the most unassuming players on the team.

The signing of forward Al-Farouq Aminu didn’t draw much fanfare, as everyone was still swooning over the additions of Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons. Aminu’s first claim to fame came early in his tenure with the Mavericks when a fan asked him at the introductory press conference if he liked the nickname “Matrix Reloaded” to describe his play. After all, the forward has drawn comparisons to longtime Dallas forward Shawn Marion for his ability to defend multiple positions and crash the glass extremely well for a player of his size.

But Aminu said he didn’t like the nickname, which was almost a letdown. At Media Day, he told Mavs.com the reason: He didn’t like the second “Matrix” movie as much as the first.

One insignificant story like that can’t tell you too much about a player, obviously, but it does reveal a certain level of pragmatism about the fifth-year wing. A sweet nickname can make a player pretty famous, but not if the player doesn’t want it. He’ll just go by “Farouq” and play some ball, thank you.

That’s exactly what he’s done this season with Dallas. His minutes have been on-and-off throughout the season as head coach Rick Carlisle has tinkered with the rotation over and over again, first at the beginning of the season and then again after the trade for Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell. Aminu is playing a career-low 14.3 minutes per game, but he’s not letting it affect his productivity whatsoever. His head coach’s mantra is “stay ready,” and Aminu has done just that. He’s practical.

He’s working through another shift in the rotation right now, as Carlisle has now turned to Powell at backup center and Aminu at the backup power forward spot. Aminu has answered the call, averaging 6.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, and a steal in his last seven appearances in just 16.0 minutes per game. Prorate that over 36 minutes and his numbers are even more impressive: 13 points, nine boards, almost four blocks and more than two steals.

That’s the key to earning minutes as a Mavs reserve since the Rondo trade: being productive and making an immediate impact. It’s not so much about the volume of minutes you receive, but about what you can do in the time you get. For backup players on this team, throw out per-game numbers. Even Sixth Man candidate Vince Carter had modest numbers last season, but that’s because he didn’t play a lot of minutes. Ignore per game stuff and look at the per-36. That’s what turned Brandan Wright into such a huge piece of that Rondo deal — he was able to score points and grab rebounds at a high volume in relatively limited minutes. Now, Aminu appears to have taken the torch.

Consider: Aminu is scoring a career-high 11.7 points per 36 this season and his 6.1 defensive rebounds is the third-highest mark of his career. His PER is a career-high 14.3, and PER in particular is a stat that’s hard to pull up high playing such a low number of minutes off the bench. His block percentage is a career-high 4.1, meaning he blocks one out of every 25 two-point shots opponents attempt while he’s on the floor. That’s an extremely high number for a player at his position. He’s also worth more win shares per 48 minutes this season (.116) than any other campaign in his career.

So what’s behind the surge? It could be because of the way he’s been deployed offensively. This season, he’s basically either taking corner threes or layups, which is a recipe for success for most players in this league. That’s also similar to the way Richard Jefferson is being used. In the charts below, pay attention to the “DIST%,” which represents the percentage of his total field goal attempts which have come from that specific area. Aminu has struggled outside of the lane, but he’s taking such a low percentage of his shots from there that it doesn’t necessarily matter.

Shotchart_1422597541452

He’s hitting better than 70 percent of his attempts at the rim, a full 10 percentage points above league average, and roughly 46 percent of his total field goal attempts have come from within the friendly confines of the paint. That shows he’s a player who knows what he’s good at, and it also reflects Carlisle’s gift of highlighting what his players can do, not what they can’t. Aminu’s 52.2 true shooting percentage is the highest mark of his career.

Now, look at this shooting chart from last season, when he was still in New Orleans.

Shotchart_1422597572316

An even higher percentage of his attempts came from the paint, but he wasn’t as effective. Why? New Orleans wasn’t able to space the floor as well as Dallas. Aminu has also scored a ton of points in transition this season, and the Pelicans weren’t able to push the ball as effectively last season.

The forward is shooting more threes this season than he ever has. Almost 40 percent of his attempts have come from beyond the arc. His 26.6 three-point percentage might not raise eyebrows, but a player’s success from beyond the arc can sometimes be related to the amount of minutes he plays. In games this season in which Aminu has played 15 minutes or more, he’s hit threes at a 31.1 percent rate, per Basketball-Reference. The same can be said about Richard Jefferson, who leads the team in three-point percentage this season at 41.6 percent. In games in which he’s played 15 minutes or more, he’s shooting a blistering 47.3 percent from deep. It’s obviously difficult to prove correlation here, as sometimes a coach will leave his guy in if he’s cooking offensively. However, that’s two examples of bench players producing at a higher efficiency on difficult shots the longer they’re in — the more of a rhythm they can get in, the better they’ll be on long-range shots. Easy enough.

The Mavs will need Aminu to continue contributing at this rate for the rest of the season. He’s such a versatile, talented player, and he can guard at least three positions very, very well. In a playoff series against Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Eric Bledsoe, or scoring leader James Harden, 15-20 minutes a game of Aminu’s defense could realistically win a game or two. That’s how good he can be on that end of the floor. Any offense you get from him is a plus, but he’s been able to provide that at a solid, career-best rate this season.

He’s stayed ready and stayed practical. He knows what he can do very well and knows what he shouldn’t do on the floor. What more could you ask for from the guy?

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