Unheralded new addition Jeremy Evans takes on heavy responsibility during Mavs’ training camp

DALLAS — Although he was one of the Dallas Mavericks’ unheralded signings this offseason, versatile big man Jeremy Evans has been handed the most responsibility early during the team’s training camp.

The 6-foot-9, 200-pound Evans spent his first five seasons in Utah, coming to Dallas after averaging 3.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 10.8 minutes in 219 games. He also showcased plenty of raw athletic ability, winning the Slam Dunk contest at All-Star weekend in 2012.

Evans, 27, played collegiately for four seasons at Western Kentucky University, averaging 10.0 points and 6.9 rebounds in 34 games during his senior year. He also left as the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots with 224, making him attractive to Utah in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft before being selected with the 55th overall pick.

The Mavericks then inked Evans to a reported two-year deal worth the league minimum this summer, looking to use his rare athleticism to fill the void left by two of the team’s top contributors from last season. And while working the athletic big man at three different positions during training camp, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is already attempting to tap into Evans’ full potential.

“Well, he’s the only guy on the team that we’re having learn three positions, which is hard,” Carlisle said while praising Evans’ versatility following Thursday’s team practice. “It’s a daunting task, ’cause the five, the four and the three are all so different. The five and four are certainly more similar, but three is different than the bigger positions. So, you know, that’s going to be a lot of work and it’s going to be a lot of reps. You know, (Al-Farouq) Aminu ended up doing that last year. It took a while for him to really get comfortable with it, and I suspect it’s going to take a while for Jeremy to get completely comfortable with it. But it speaks to the kinds of diverse abilities we feel he has.”

Evans primarily saw time as a backup power forward in Utah, averaging 2.4 points and 1.9 rebounds in 38 games for the Jazz last season. He also connected on 55.2 percent from the field, showing a rare ability to finish above the rim with regularity.

The Mavericks now hope Evans can fill the void of former big man Brandan Wright, who was moved in the five-player trade with Boston last season for the acquisition of four-time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. But as Carlisle points out, Evans is being asked do much more than just fill Wright’s shoes.

“You know, you’re always going to miss a guy like Wright. You know, particularly from a roll-and-finish standpoint. He’s a very special player, but this is a different year. We wanted to get a couple of younger, athletic guys like that. You know, Jeremy Evans and Maurice Ndour are guys we’re looking at to kind of feel that niche for us,” Carlisle explained.

He added: “I spent a lot of time with [Evans] this summer, so I feel like I got a good head start with kind of what I feel he can do. And look, we’re expanding what’s being asked of him. In Utah, he was playing mostly backup four, and he’d play occasionally five when they went small. But it was not very often. You know, we’re stretching out his shooting range to the three-point line. And he’s made a few threes in his career, but he hasn’t shot that many. And we’re having him learn three positions, so it’s a great opportunity for him. But it is a lot of work.”

Evans, a career 20-percent shooter from three-point range, says he’s up to the challenge, looking to expand on the role that Wright thrived in during his team in Dallas.

Prior to the mid-season trade, Wright averaged 8.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in 18.7 minutes an outing while coming off the bench in 27 games for the Mavericks. More impressively, Wright connected on a staggering 74.8 percent from the field, developing a chemistry with Mavs sixth man Devin Harris in the team’s pick-and-roll sets.

Evans will now look to excel in a more expanded role, hoping to add a three-point shot to the above-the-rim finishes that Mavericks fans came accustom to seeing during Wright’s 3 1/2 seasons in Dallas.

“The past eight years I’ve been at the four and five. You know, back in high school, of course, I used to play (on the perimeter). But that’s a big change, especially for the NBA,” Evans explained while addressing his added responsibilities. “You build habits of running into the paint, rebounding and just guarding guys inside, and it’s tough taking a step outside against bigger and faster guys and guys at this level.

“It’s pretty tough, just because you want to come in and do what [Carlisle] asks and catch on quick, but basically I’ve just been trying to do what they ask of me. It’s tough learning (to play small forward). But as far as getting it down, I’ve just got to go over the plays and spend extra time with the coaches. You know, this summer and right now in practice, I feel tremendous as far as knowing that I’m going to knock (outside shots) down. If I shoot it, I feel like now I’m going to make it. So, I feel like now it’s a big change. The coaches, they’ve told me where I’m going to play, and I’ve been in positions where I’m going to shoot the ball. I’ve been comfortable, and I’ve just been taking the shots and knocking them down. I feel like that’s big, because they’re putting me exactly where they want me to be. I’ve just got to stay focused and stay under control, come out and keep working every day. That’s why we’re here to practice.”

Evans admits to being caught in a whirlwind early in training camp while attempting to grasp everything Carlisle threw his way. However, the lanky big man has been able to turn to a former teammate in Harris, who also played in Utah for 1 1/2 seasons after being moved from the then-New Jersey Nets during the ’10-11 campaign.

Harris says Evans is more than capable of thriving in Carlisle’s system, using Wright as an example of how effective the new addition could be this season. With that said, the veteran guard knows Evans has plenty on his plate while playing more on the perimeter, looking to make life easier on the newcomer when the two have been on the court together during practice.

And after forming a chemistry with Wright during their time together, Harris hopes his time with Evans in practice will translate to the games when the regular season gets underway.

“Well, I’ve played with Jeremy in Utah, so I know what he’s capable of. For him, it’s about getting the right timing, because he’s playing multiple positions,” Harris said. “You know, he’s playing some three and some four, so he’ll get it. It’s just more about us being on the floor at the same time and kind of reading one another. You know, he’s got to read my faces a little bit better and kind of figure out what I want when I see different situations, but I think he’s definitely getting better. He’s also asked to do something he’s never been asked to do. He’s on the perimeter a lot more, so I think that’s where his focus is right now.

“[Wright] was my go-to. He was like my bail-out guy and a guy I could always find on the court. We struggled a little bit with (not having Wright), but I think we have something similar with Jeremy.”

Mavs will collectively have to replace Al-Farouq Aminu’s high energy

DALLAS — He was arguably the Dallas Mavericks’ most valuable unsung hero during the 2014-15 season. Now, 24-year-old forward Al-Farouq Aminu departs from Dallas and leaves a notable hole in the Mavericks’ second unit after migrating to Portland this summer in free agency.

Playing in 74 outings for the Mavs during the ’14-15 season, Aminu averaged 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18.5 minutes of work. He also struggled shooting the ball during the regular season, connecting on just 41.2 percent from the field and only 27.4 percent from three-point range.

However, the 6-foot-9 lanky forward then stepped up his production in the first round of the playoffs, averaging 11.2 points, 7.2 boards, 1.6 blocked shots and 2.0 steals an outing as the Mavericks fell in five games to the Houston Rockets. He also provided the best defense on MVP runner-up James Harden, giving the team a lift at both ends of the floor while shooting 54.8 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from behind the three-point arc in the series.

In doing so, Aminu made himself into an attractive prospect in free agency prior to signing a reported four-year deal worth $30 million with Portland. The Mavericks now find themselves needing to replace Aminu’s spark off the bench, hoping one of their new additions can fill the void.

“I felt he was really good all year,” 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said while praising Aminu’s performance during last season. “You can never have enough athletes now in the game that can run, that can finish on the break, that can defend and use his length. I thought he was phenomenal. He made it hard on James, just using his length really well. I think he worked on his shooting throughout the year, so he had some good shooting games. But he’s a slasher and great energy player, and I thought he played extremely well during the playoffs.”

Aminu came to Dallas with plenty of untapped potential, holding averages of 6.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 303 career games during stints with the Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans prior to signing with the Mavs on July 29, 2014. And according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, it’s head coach Rick Carlisle’s tireless work with the young forward and the team’s development staff that should be credited with bringing the best out of the eighth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

It’s now that track record of developing budding stars that gives Nelson and Carlisle confidence in believing the Mavs will successfully make up for the loss of Aminu during the upcoming season.

“He did a great job,” Carlisle said of Aminu’s efforts last season. “He was one of our best workers from Day 1. He came from some systems where there were limits put on what he was expected to do. Coming into this, I made a promise to him that we would work to develop his game to places it had not been. He needed to develop as a three-point shooter. He needed to learn to play inside and outside. He did not shoot the three particularly great during the year, but there was never one time when I did not encourage him to continue shooting them and continue working on them. As the playoffs unfolded, he shot over 60 percent from three and did a lot of great things. He’s an exciting young player. … He had a great experience here. We had a great experience with him and he helped us. He’s young still. He’s 24 years old. Guys with his ability level and work ethic have a higher ceiling than most. He just has such great heart and such great work ethic that I wouldn’t bet against him. I wouldn’t bet against him.”

“We’ve just been really lucky that you have players like [Aminu], who see us as a destination to develop,” Nelson added. “Brandan Wright certainly had that opportunity a few years ago, and he got himself out in the marketplace. And he certainly got his value. We were lucky Al chose us with an eye on the history that we’ve had here, with Rick and our development program.”

Selecting former Virginia standout Justin Anderson with the 21st overall pick in the first round of June’s draft, the Mavs will now look to develop the first-year standout into a two-way player much like Aminu proved to be last season.

Anderson played three years at Virginia, leading the Cavaliers to two Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season titles and just the second ACC tournament championship in school history. As a junior, he averaged 12.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists, connecting on 46.6 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from behind the arc on his way to being named to the NABC All-America Third Team and All-ACC Second Team.

The 6-foot-6 Anderson also helped to lead the Mavericks’ summer-league squad to the quarterfinals of the Las Vegas Summer League in July, starting all six of the team’s games and averaging 17.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.2 steals an outing. And with Carlisle working tirelessly to develop the young swingman’s game, Anderson could find himself in the rotation in Year 1.

“Justin is a unique kid,” the coach said while speaking about the addition of Anderson in the draft. “He’s a three-year guy. He’s gotten better each year. He’s very physically strong. We feel he’s a wing player that could play either the two or the three. We believe that he’s got an NBA body, and he was one of the strongest kids in the draft positionally. He’s in a good position coming here. You know, we have to fill roster spots, we need to get younger, and so he makes a lot of sense for us. And we need to improve our defense. He’s a solid defender, and he’s a guy whose shooting has gotten better the last three years.”

Losing their best perimeter defender in Aminu, the Mavericks will certainly look to Anderson to emerge as a lockdown option as a rookie. But another player also has the potential to provide Aminu’s high-octane play on defense as newcomer Maurice Ndour tries to build on his stellar play with the New York Knicks’ summer-league squad.

The 6-9 Ndour averaged 9.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals in 28.3 minutes of work during the Knicks’ five games in Las Vegas, signing with the Mavs as a free agent on July 23. The 23-year-old spent two years at Monroe College, earning National Junior College Athletic Association All-Region selections twice before transferring to Ohio University. He then was named to the All-Mid-American Conference Second Team in his senior season with the Bobcats, averaging 16.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in the process.

And it’s Ndour’s defensive prowess that could earn him a spot in Carlisle’s rotation next season as the Mavericks try to improve on defense after ranking 25th by giving up 102.3 points an outing.

“The biggest thing for us as a team right now is we have to get more consistent defensively. … That’s our goal right now and going forward,” Carlisle confessed after the Mavs ranked 18th in the league last season with a 103.7 defensive rating.

He added: “Offensively, I like our team. It’s really going to depend on two things: getting rid of or keeping down catastrophic turnovers that turn into un-defendable baskets, ’cause that affects your defensive numbers, and then it’s how well we’re able to develop a group edge and toughness about the defensive end. Even though we may not have the best individual defenders from top to bottom, this is the challenge where we’ve got to do it as a team.”

With that said, the Mavs may also have to fill Aminu’s void as a team.

Mavs could focus on perimeter help in Thursday’s draft

DALLAS — With two of their top contributors from the 2014-15 season perhaps sat to enter free agency on July 1, the Dallas Mavericks may look to add depth on the wings during Thursday’s NBA Draft.

As the draft rapidly approaches, the Mavericks patiently await word from leading scorer Monta Ellis on whether or not he’ll opt in for the final year of his contract or test the open market in hopes of landing a longer deal. Ellis, 29, has until the eve of the draft on Wednesday to make his decision. That could have the Mavs looking to fill a void in the draft at shooting guard to help potentially offset the loss of Ellis’ team-best 18.9 points per game during the ’14-15 season.

That’s exactly what one mock draft has the Mavericks doing.

Tabbing UNLV’s freshman standout Rashad Vaughn as a player that could fall to Dallas’ 21st overall pick, NBADraft.net has the Mavs addressing the shooting guard position in the first round. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Vaughn dazzled in his lone collegiate season, averaging 18.3 points on 44.7 percent shooting in 22 games for the Runnin’ Rebels before tearing the meniscus in his left knee. He also showcased an ability to stretch the floor out to the three-point line, connecting on 38.4 percent from behind the arc.

The 18-year-old Vaughn, who is the second-youngest player in this year’s draft class, also possesses a 6-7 wingspan that could make him an attractive prospect for the Mavs. And if Ellis does in fact decide to enter free agency, Vaughn could be a player the Mavericks consider for help on the perimeter.

“I haven’t talked to him lately, but I’m guessing he wants to opt out,” 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said last week of Ellis’ pending decision. “Why would he not? He had two phenomenal seasons here. He was our closer, he was our leading scorer last year, and I’m sure for his market value he feels he was a little underpaid. My feeling is that he would opt out, but I have no idea. He only has a couple of days to make that decision. We’ll have to wait and see what happens this week, but my gut feeling is he’s going to opt out.”

Meanwhile, the Mavericks may have another hole to fill at small forward as high-energy reserve Al-Farouq Aminu jumps back into free agency after coming on strong for the team in the playoffs.

Playing in 74 outings this season while supplying depth behind starter Chandler Parsons at the three position, Aminu averaged 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18.5 minutes of work after signing with the Mavs last summer. He also struggled shooting the ball during the regular season, connecting on just 41.2 percent from the field and 27.4 percent from three-point range.

However, the 6-foot-9 lanky forward stepped up his production when it mattered most in the first round of the playoffs, averaging 11.2 points, 7.2 boards, 1.6 blocked shots and 2.0 steals an outing while starting the final two games in the series for the injured Parsons as the Mavericks fell in five games to the Houston Rockets. He also supplied the Dallas defense with its best option on the league’s No. 2 scorer, James Harden, connecting on 54.8 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from behind the three-point arc to boot in the series.

With Aminu already vowing to opt out of his current deal, re-signing the 24-year-old headlines the Dallas front office’s offseason to-do list. Should the right player fall their way in the draft, however, the Mavs may look to supply depth behind Parsons with another young contributor. And according to CBSSports.com, that’s what the Mavs will do should Virginia’s junior standout Justin Anderson slide their way in the first round.

At 6-6 and 230 pounds, Anderson definitely possesses enough size to play either wing position in the pros. He also displayed plenty of versatility at the offensive end of the floor in college, averaging 12.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 26 games this season for the Cavaliers while shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from three-point range.

But, much like Aminu, it’s Anderson’s ability to guard multiple positions and near 7-foot wingspan that has teams looking forward to what he can bring to the table on the defensive end of the floor. And should the Mavericks fear losing either Ellis or Aminu in free agency, they may look at adding a player like Anderson.

“I think the draft is coming up, and we’ve had a bunch of draft workouts the last couple of weeks,” Nowitzki admitted. “I was in the gym the last couple of times working out myself, and we’ll see if we can get some help there. Maybe an athlete, or maybe a defender on the wing that’s long. We’ll just see.”

2015 Year in Review: Al-Farouq Aminu

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.

SEASON STATS

PTS REB STL BLK
5.6 4.6 0.9 0.8

PERFORMANCE EVALUATION

Aminu

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.

STANDOUT SHOWING

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.

CONTRACT STATUS

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.

FUTURE OUTLOOK

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.

Mavs’ youth-movement plans start with healthy Chandler Parsons, re-signing Al-Farouq Aminu

DALLAS — While one heads into a summer of rehabilitation after offseason surgery and the other gets set to enter free agency on July 1, both the 26-year-old Chandler Parsons and the 24-year-old Al-Farouq Aminu could play vital roles for the Dallas Mavericks for seasons to come.

Battling nagging injuries during the 2014-15 campaign, Parsons showed glimpses of great things to come after signing with the Mavericks last summer in free agency. The versatile forward, who spent his first three seasons in the NBA with the rival Houston Rockets before signing a reported three-year deal worth $46 million to come to Dallas, started all 66 of his appearances for the Mavs this season, averaging 15.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 33.1 minutes per game. Parsons then saw his season come to an abrupt end, scoring just 10 points on 5-of-15 shooting in Game 1 of the Mavericks’ first-round playoff exit against his former team before being ruled out the rest of the series due to a right knee injury.

And after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his aching knee on May 1, Parsons now hopes to come back stronger while vowing to assume a larger role after getting his feet wet in his first season with the Mavs.

“I’m going into my prime,” Parsons proclaimed while quickly turning his attention to the ’15-16 season. “I think I’m ready. I feel like this year was more of a year to get comfortable and get my feet wet. I had some big games. Next year, I hope for a much bigger role. I want the ball in my hands. I want good players around me. I think we have a chance to make some noise next year. Like I said, this year was a little frustrating, mostly just health-wise with the ankle and the foot and then with the knee, so my biggest goal right now is to do whatever I have to do to fix my knee. No matter how long that’s going to be, I think that’ll be good, because it will allow me to basically reset my body and take time to work on my foot and my hips. And it will allow me to get stronger than I have ever been and not too overweight, hopefully.”

Getting Parsons back to playing at a high level headlines the Mavs’ offseason to-do list, according to coach Rick Carlisle, as the team hopes to hand over more responsibility his way going forward. Parsons finished third on the team in scoring last season behind starting shooting guard Monta Ellis and 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki. He also thrived as a playmaker when Carlisle opted to use him as a de facto point forward, creating mismatches for opposing defenses at the three position.

Carlisle now anticipates Parsons’ role and his game to continue expanding next season, expecting the offseason rehabilitation process to only aid the 6-foot-10 forward’s skill set.

“We’ve got to get Parsons back to 100 percent, which will happen,” Carlisle matter-of-factly said.

“His game has grown a lot,” the coach added. “He’s not only a shooter and a scorer, but he’s a playmaker, he’s a defender and a rebounder. He’s one of our best all-around players. As the season went on, his responsibilities grew. And they will continue to grow going forward. During this period where he’s going to have surgery and recover, there are going to be plenty of things that he can do to refine his game, even if he’s not on the court and going 100 percent. I’ve had long discussions with him about that. There will be no time wasted, and he will continue to get better and be one of the best young players in the game.”

Meanwhile, the Mavs’ front office also heads into the summer with a goal of re-inking Aminu, who came on strong in relief of the injured Parsons during the playoffs.

Signing with the Mavericks on July 29, Aminu supplied depth at both forward positions behind Nowitzki and Parsons. Playing in 74 outings this season, Aminu averaged 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18.5 minutes of work. He then stepped up his production in the playoffs, posting 11.2 points, 7.2 boards, 1.6 blocked shots and 2.0 steals an outing as the Mavericks fell in five games to the Rockets.

In addition to hounding the league’s No. 2 scorer on the defensive end while matched up against MVP runner-up James Harden, Aminu also shot 54.8 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from behind the three-point arc as he started the final two games in the series in Parsons’ place. And after emerging as a valuable contributor at both ends of the floor, the 6-foot-9 lanky forward hopes to be a key member of the Mavericks’ youth movement.

“I had a lot of growth this year,” Aminu said while summing up his ’14-15 season. “Just being around these vets, I learned a lot about how to conduct myself throughout the year, and I really appreciate everything from the coaching staff and the vets. I learned a lot. … I think I was able to show a wide range, even to myself, with my versatility. I even played the (center position) a little this year, and that was kind of fun. And I steadily worked on my shot and different things like that where I can always use improvement.”

The five-year pro is now expected to decline a player option in his contract, making him a free agent this summer and an attractive piece that the Mavs hope to have at their disposal. And with a goal of keeping the former Wake Forest standout, the Mavericks hope to have another young contributor to pair with Parsons as a foundation piece for the future.

“He did a great job,” Carlisle said while assessing Aminu’s season. “He was one of our best workers from Day 1. He came from some systems where there were limits put on what he was expected to do. Coming into this, I made a promise to him that we would work to develop his game to places it had not been. He needed to develop as a three-point shooter. He needed to learn to play inside and outside. He did not shoot the three particularly great during the year, but there was never one time when I did not encourage him to continue shooting them and continue working on them. As the playoffs unfolded, he shot over 60 percent from three and did a lot of great things. He’s an exciting young player. We certainly hope that we can get him back here, because he fits into our culture, he fits into our fabric and fits into the character of this organization. So, we’ll see. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen there, but he had a great experience here, we had a great experience with him and he helped us. He’s young still. He’s 24 years old. Guys with his ability level and work ethic have a higher ceiling than most. He just has such great heart and such great work ethic that I wouldn’t bet against him. I wouldn’t bet against him.”

After finding his niche, Al-Farouq Aminu hopes to find home in Dallas

DALLAS — He was viewed as a potential steal in free agency when the Dallas Mavericks inked him to a deal last summer. But, after coming into his own over the course of the 2014-15 season, Al-Farouq Aminu may have just begun to tap into his own potential.

Despite playing in 81 games for the Los Angeles Clippers during his rookie season after being taken with the eighth overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, Aminu would find himself on the move in the four-player trade that sent All-Star point guard Chris Paul from New Orleans to L.A. Aminu then struggled to develop a niche with New Orleans, starting 157 games over the next three seasons while showcasing glimpses of an up-and-coming perimeter defender and rebounder.

Signing with the Mavericks on July 29, Aminu quickly accepted a reserve role while supplying depth at both forward positions behind 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki and fellow new addition Chandler Parsons. And after emerging as the Mavs’ best energy player off the bench, Aminu says he will express the player option in his contract to once again test free agency with hopes of returning to Dallas on a longer deal.

“I had a lot of growth this year,” Aminu said following the Mavs’ first-round playoff exit while summing up his ’14-15 season. “Just being around these vets, I learned a lot about how to conduct myself throughout the year, and I really appreciate everything from the coaching staff and the vets. I learned a lot.

“I think I was able to show a wide range, even to myself, with my versatility. I even played the (center position) a little this year, and that was kind of fun. And I steadily worked on my shot and different things like that, where I can always use improvement.”

While the former Wake Forest standout may have proved something to himself this season, he also earned the respect and admiration of the Mavs’ front office, his coach and teammates.

Playing in 74 outings this season, Aminu averaged 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18.5 minutes of work. He also struggled shooting the ball, connecting on just 41.2 percent from the field and 27.4 percent from three-point range.

The 6-foot-9 lanky forward then stepped up his production in the playoffs, averaging 11.2 points, 7.2 boards, 1.6 blocked shots and 2.0 steals an outing as the Mavs fell in five games to the Houston Rockets. Playing stellar defense on the league’s No. 2 scorer, James Harden, Aminu also shot 54.8 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from behind the three-point arc while starting the final two games in the series for the injured Parsons.

And after Aminu was able to make the most of his first postseason appearance, the Mavericks now hope to retain his services by luring the 24-year-old back with an attractive offer during free agency.

“He did a great job,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said of Aminu’s efforts this season. “He was one of our best workers from Day 1. He came from some systems where there were limits put on what he was expected to do. Coming into this, I made a promise to him that we would work to develop his game to places it had not been. He needed to develop as a three-point shooter. He needed to learn to play inside and outside. He did not shoot the three particularly great during the year, but there was never one time when I did not encourage him to continue shooting them and continue working on them. As the playoffs unfolded, he shot over 60 percent from three and did a lot of great things. He’s an exciting young player. We certainly hope that we can get him back here, because he fits into our culture, he fits into our fabric and fits into the character of this organization. So, we’ll see. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen there, but he had a great experience here. We had a great experience with him and he helped us. He’s young still. He’s 24 years old. Guys with his ability level and work ethic have a higher ceiling than most. He just has such great heart and such great work ethic that I wouldn’t bet against him. I wouldn’t bet against him.”

“We’ve just been really lucky that you have players like that, who see us as a destination to develop,” team president of basketball operation Donnie Nelson added. “Brandan Wright certainly had that opportunity a few years ago and got himself out in the marketplace, and he certainly got his value. We were lucky Al chose us, with an eye on the history that we’ve had here, with Rick and our development program. He certainly should opt out. And he will, as noted. We hope to be in a position to reacquire his services.”

The support of his head coach and the front office should prove beneficial during negotiations this summer. However, it was the encouragement of Mavs center Tyson Chandler, a former Defensive Player of the Year, that went a long way for Aminu this season.

Pulling Aminu aside during training camp, Chandler constantly boosted the fifth-year pro’s confidence during limited playing time throughout the course of the season. The two quickly formed a bond, according to Aminu, helping to anchor the Dallas defense. Now, as both he and Chandler get set to enter free agency, Aminu hopes the Mavs’ front office can keep the two defensive specialists together as the team looks to build on this season’s success.

“It’s funny. (Chandler) was one of the first people to appreciate what I did out there on the court,” Aminu explained. “I remember my wife showing me something he said in an article, saying that I do a lot of stuff that doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet. I appreciate people like that, that saw something in me and also taught me a lot about the game. I love this team. I love this city. Great guys, like I just alluded to. And the city, it’s a beautiful city. I hope I can be right here.”

“He was one of the really bright spots of this year,” Chandler added. “He reminded me a little bit of myself and others who have been in similar situations, where you’ve kind of been on teams that you didn’t necessarily find your spot and your home. I feel like he’s always been a promising player throughout his career. Teams never put him necessarily in a position to succeed. And this year was kind of a growing experience for him, because I think from those teams that he’s played on you almost sometimes become a whipping boy. He grew, he was encouraged every day, and coaches were working with him every day. He saw the fruits of his labor on the run that he made in the playoffs and he showed a lot of teams, including this organization, how valuable he is and what he’s capable of doing. I think he’s going to have a bright future. I said it when I saw him early in the summer before preseason started that I thought he had the potential to be a great defender. By the end of the year, he really showed it.”

2015 First Round Game 5: Mavs at Rockets

Steal of the Night: Al-Farouq Aminu

Al-Farouq Aminu picks up the loose ball and drives to the basket for the monster dunk.