When Dell Demps and the Hornets finally traded away Chris Paul to the Clippers in December, the package they received in return was built around shooting guard Eric Gordon. The league-wide consensus is that Gordon has a chance to be the best at his position in just a few years when Kobe Bryant finally accepts his age and knees, and Dwyane Wade is past his prime. Not a bad centerpiece for a rebuilding project, especially with two lottery picks during this year's draft. Needless to say, the Hornets have a chance to turn around from the loss of the face of the franchise to a promising young team in a relatively short time.
However, I think Al-Farouq Aminu has been overlooked as a part of the deal. Aminu had a solid two-year career at Wake Forest (ironically, Paul's alma mater also) and was drafted by the Clippers with the eighth pick in 2010. Coming out of college he was touted as a player with a high ceiling and great measurements. He saw less than eighteen minutes of action a game with Los Angeles last year but showed a penchant for rebounding. As the Hornets move forward with their new star in Gordon and more talent to come, Aminu will be an important player if he can reach his potential.
The most important step for Aminu to become a better player is receiving more minutes. He played only 12 minutes a game. With Trevor Ariza going down with a groin injury, Aminu's minutes have more than doubled to 28 a game. He grabbed 20 rebounds total in his last two games against Dallas and Denver, and scored a season-high 15 points in the former contest. The Ariza injury has obviously been a blessing in disguise for Aminu as Monty Williams has started him for four games in a row alongside Chris Kaman and Emeka Okafor in the frontcourt. By producing during these few opportunities he will surely gain some clout with Monty and earn himself more playing time when Ariza comes back.
A huge asset for Aminu is his length which has shown its effectiveness through his rebounding totals. After Monday's win versus the Denver Nuggets, he is averaging 8.5 rebounds per 36 minutes. The Hornets certainly don't have a rebounding deficiency with the likes of Okafor and Kaman, but emphasizing that strength isn't a bad idea. Everyone knows that hustling for loose balls and boxing out is one of the best ways to impress a coaching staff and earn more playing time. Ariza is still day-to-day with his injury and could probably come back against the Thunder on Wednesday or the Timberwolves on Friday. I would bet that Aminu sees a decrease in his minutes, but with the Hornets probable to be on the wrong side of some blowouts, Aminu could still see around 22 MPG.
Aminu does have a bit of an identity crisis as a tweener. He is 6'8", but his lack of strength makes him a defensive liability against most power forwards. Bullying Aminu in the low-post is not a tough task for any professional basketball player. If he is able to put on a few more pounds of muscle and develop some toughness it will be a very large plus. There is a trend in the NBA of tweeners, so Aminu may not have such a large problem in just a few years. Only time will tell if he has to decide whether to be a SF or PF.
I doubt Aminu will be a starter for this team in a couple years; most likely he will come off the bench as an effective spark that leads the second unit. He still has a lot of growing to do on both ends of the court. His length will hopefully contribute to him becoming a great perimeter defender and a pest in the passing lanes. Offensively, he needs to improve his jumpshot (especially his three-point shooting) and make better decisions. He doesn't shoot a good percentage from the field, but that should improve with more on-court maturity and experience. If he can continue his solid play, we should see Al-Farouq Aminu possibly reach his potential.