This off-season, a lot of talk has centered around the New Orleans Pelicans small forward position. With word that Quincy Pondexter could be sidelined for the summer and possibly the beginning of the season, that talk will only heat up as the summer progresses. Some thought the Pelicans would jump up in the draft to select a small forward like Justin Anderson in the draft, while others believed one could come over in some type of sign and trade, and still others thought that the Pels would renounce Omer Asik and use cap space to sign a bigger name.
However, it seems very clear that the Pelicans will not be doing any of those things. Assuming that the Pels resign Asik (which I fully expect), that leaves the mid-level exception or the bi-annual exception to sign a new small forward. Many have lobbied for Gerald Green or maybe Jae Crowder, but I want to turn back the clock and bring back Al-Farouq Aminu.
Bringing back Aminu is not as crazy as it sounds. On Sunday, David Aldridge tweeted that Aminu was scheduled to visit with the Pelicans. Now, I know that many of you see this tweet republished here by David and are on your hands and knees begging that this does not come to fruition, but try to place what you know of the old Aminu out of your head and hear me out.
Before we go too far, a possible contract for Aminu would probably look something like four years, $18 million contract with a team option for the fourth year. To sign Aminu, the Pels would have to give up most of their mid-level exception for the next three years. Now, I know you are thinking that I am crazy because the Pels already renounced him once, and he was only a minimum player last year, but I ask that you hear me out before you move on. I think that the Aminu could provide just what the Pels need, and the Pels could be the perfect home for Aminu’s still developing skill set.
First, Aminu would provide sorely needed length and athleticism as a perimeter defender. Outside of Holiday, the Pels severely lack any player that can combine length and athleticism like Aminu can on the perimeter. That length and athleticism translates well to the floor. Everyone knows Aminu is an elite rebounder at small forward, but Aminu would be an absolute mammoth upgrade over what the Pelicans had last year. Aminu had double the rebounds per 48 minutes as a small forward than what the Pelicans received from the small forward position last year. As a team, the Pelicans were ninth in the Western conference in defensive rebound percentage. If this team wants to play at a high pace, offensive rebounds must be kept to a minimum and Aminu could do that.
Second, Aminu has seemingly figured out how to translate his athleticism into defense. Last year, the Mavs were 4.2 points per possession better with Aminu on the court. Aminu allows only a 22% field goal percentage around the basket, commits a paltry 3.1 fouls per 48 minutes, and forces one turnover for every one assist from the player he is guarding. For a Pelicans team which was consistently burned by wings getting to the basket and scoring, getting fouled, or creating for others, Aminu would be an instant upgrade defensively. Aminu can also guard both forward positions, which in a league continually going small to finish games will be fantastic. When Aminu played the 4 in the Mavs’ top four lineups, opposing teams only averaged .88 points per possession on offense. That is absurdly good. A finishing five of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Aminu, and Anthony Davis could defend at the point of attack with Holiday, the wing with Aminu, and the paint with Davis. That line-up would force turnovers, get out and run in transition, and have two guys who could finish above the rim in Aminu and Davis.
Third, Aminu is an elite fit in the Pelicans’ new mold. If the Pels want to play fast, they have to rebound, push in transition, and finish with quick offense. Aminu can not only take care of the rebounding, but Pels’ fans know he is an incredible finisher. It’s more than just an eye test though. Aminu had over a 60% effective field goal percentage on shots taken in the first ten seconds of the shot clock. Looking at player tracking, Aminu scored 1.26 points per possession in transition and scored over 20% of all his points in transition. His points per possession make him one of the top 15 small forwards in transition, and even better than the vaunted Lebron James.
The three reasons above make Aminu worth the 4-5 million dollars that he will likely command. However, there is one more portion of Aminu’s game that has me salivating. Aminu just may be able to shoot the three on top of all of this. If he could, he would be the exact 3 and D player that Pelican fans have been craving. Aminu was a horrendous shooter the last time he was with the team. His shots just looked like these high arcing lollipops that simply reached the goal only by an act of the basketball gods. He was not a very good three-point shooter overall this year at 27.4%. However, something just may have clicked at the end of the season. In the last eight games of the season, Aminu shot 41.7% from three. He followed that up by shooting a staggering 63.6% in the playoffs while making 1.5 threes per game. If he gave the Pelicans that type of shooting performance on top of his transition game and defense, he would be worth three times what I am proposing to pay him.
There are still questions raised by this new possibility. Is it worth giving up a large portion of the MLE for the next three years? I would say yes. When the salary cap jumps next year and consistently in the years following, the MLE is going to have less and less significance in signing a player. Would Aminu be willing to return to a team that spurned him? Again, I think yes. Aminu has said that he wants a longer deal after moving from Los Angeles to NOLA to Dallas. Dallas has said they would like to have him back, but they will not be able to offer as much as New Orleans. The contract also would be a $4 million increase over his minimum contract from last year. I think Aminu is a legitimate possibility to sign here.
The Al-Farouq Aminu that New Orleans fans know is simply not the Aminu that I think fans will see if he is signed. The Aminu that used to be in New Orleans was confined to a slow offense that did not allow him to excel in transition very often. Monty’s defense was notorious for not allowing the athleticism of its players to shine, again misusing Aminu. And, the offense around him was simply not as good as it will be this upcoming year. The situation for Aminu this year will be starkly different in New Orleans, and that difference could mean that Aminu is just what the Pelicans are looking for at small forward.