Mavs fill multiple voids with addition of Al-Farouq Aminu

Defense and depth were toward the top of the Mavs’ wish list heading into the summer, and the signing of Al-Farouq Aminu answers both needs.

The 23-year-old small forward is the best rebounder at his position in the NBA by percentage — over the last two seasons, Aminu has snagged more than 23 percent of the available defensive rebounds and 15.5 percent of total available rebounds while he was on the floor. Those are good-to-great numbers for big men, let alone 6′ 9″ wings. Perhaps his best game of the 2013-14 campaign came against the Mavs, as Aminu filled it up for 16 points and 20 rebounds. Chandler Parsons will start at the small forward spot, but Aminu will surely compete for backup minutes at the position with Jae Crowder and Richard Jefferson, and the lanky four-year vet might also find time at the power forward spot here and there if Dirk Nowitzki needs a breather. He has the versatility and length to defend four positions well, giving Rick Carlisle the freedom to unleash Aminu on the most dangerous perimeter player at any given time. Assuming Crowder and Devin Harris come off the bench again this season, and factoring Greg Smith into the equation, Dallas will have perhaps one of the best defensive second units in all of basketball.

His most significant contribution to the team in terms of defense could come against the pick-and-roll. Aminu has the length (a 7′ 3″ wingspan) to defend the longest and most dangerous perimeter threats in the league — guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, for example. James, especially, has shown over the years he has what it takes to be extremely dangerous in pick-and-roll situations. Aminu, however, provides Dallas with a good counter. He was the sixth-best pick-and-roll ball-handler defender in the NBA in 2012-13, allowing just .53 points per possession in those situations, allowing opponents to hit only 33.3 percent of their field goal attempts on such plays (per Synergy Sports). In addition, 27.8 percent of those possessions resulted in turnovers, as he has the ball skills and length to swipe at the ball and deflect passes. Those are crazy good numbers.

His points allowed per possession against the pick-and-roll did increase to .72 last season — still a top-10 percent number — as the volume of pick-and-rolls he faced increase dramatically. Still, opponents shot less than 37 percent against him in those situations and he forced turnovers one out of every seven plays. Partnering Aminu with an excellent pick-and-roll defender like Tyson Chandler should have a positive influence on his defensive numbers. It will also give Dallas an answer to James, Durant, and any team that relies heavily on the pick-and-roll, including division rivals San Antonio and Houston. Between a deep rotation of capable perimeter defenders and the presence of Chandler and Smith down low, Dallas matches up well with those two teams in particular.

As for his offensive game, Aminu’s game somewhat mirrors Shawn Marion’s during the 2012-13 season. Marion shot far more three-pointers last season than he did in any other year in Dallas, including the year before, when 62 percent of his field goal attempts came from within five feet, per Aminu, similarly, took 63 percent of his field goal attempts last season from the same distance. The lone difference is nearly a quarter of Aminu’s attempts last season came from the mid-range, an area into which Marion has rarely ventured. The 23-year-old shoots right around league average from that distance — a tick below 36 percent — but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Rick Carlisle engineered ways for Aminu to get closer to the rim. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to forecast Carlisle using Aminu as sort of a Marion clone, attacking the rim in search of offensive rebounds and put-backs. Aminu is the type of player who doesn’t need plays called for him in order to score points.

Where he plays and how many minutes he gets will depend on how Carlisle draws up his rotation, but the Mavs head coach knows he has a defensive ace in Aminu and a player who will scratch and claw his way for rebounds. He does the dirty work, the stuff that doesn’t always show up in the box scores, but every great team needs one of those guys.