By Brian Chan
Special to ClipperBlog
The strong play of the rookies has been one of the encouraging stories of the 2010-11 Clippers season. Blake Griffin has met or exceeded all expectations of him, averaging 20.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per 36 minutes. Eric Bledsoe took advantage of the early opportunities and proved himself a valuable rotation player, now averaging 10.0 points, 6.0 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per 36 minutes. Blake has an All-Star level Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 22.38 and Bledsoe has a solid PER of 10.66, but right above Bledsoe with a PER of 11.45 is another Clipper rookie–Al-Farouq Aminu.
Aminu has been a great contributor in key spots, while acclimating himself to both the NBA and extended play at the 3 position. Aminu is averaging 13.9 points per 36 minutes and contributing without having plays run for him, which makes him a great running mate for Blake and EJ. One of the knocks on Aminu coming out of college was his inconsistent shooting. Despite shooting only .238 from the college 3, at this point in the season, he is shooting .467 from 3-point range, and .434 overall. His effective field goal percentage is .518, while his true shooting percentage is .542, as he is shooting just under .700 from the free throw line.
Sebastian Pruiti wrote a brief analysis of Aminu’s shooting form on Basketball Prospectus that takes a look at his shot in college against his shot in the NBA. Not much has changed in terms of his shooting form except for slightly better elbow placement, but Aminu has attributed his improved shooting to his work with instructor Dave Hopla. As Sebastian points out, Aminu’s 3-point field goal percentage has declined month to month, so his early shooting success may be “to some extent a fluke.” Fortunately, Al-Farouq has shown that he can be more than a shooter, with his ability to get past defenders off the dribble on more than a few occasions. He also looks comfortable playing off the ball with an impressive desire to crash the offensive glass. Aminu is averaging 7.0 total rebounds per 36 minutes (1.8 of them offensive).
Defensively, Aminu has gone through some growing pains but has made positive strides. He possesses the type of length that Jay Bilas swoons over as well as relatively quick feet, which gives him the potential to be a very good defender. Aminu’s long arms allow him to harass ball handlers and shrink passing lanes, as evidenced by his team leading 1.6 steals per 36 minutes. Aminu’s size also makes him a force on the glass, especially when playing at the 2 or 3 spot. If he can develop physically, he may also be able to consistently defend the 4 position as well. His versatility is a boon to the Clipper defense, as he can comfortably switch on most ball screens. Against the Suns, the Clippers were having a hard time with the smaller wing players defending Grant Hill and Marcin Gortat in the post after switching on Nash screens.
It is apparent that Aminu needs to play more. Rasual’s “sharpshooting” has been less than sharp, and while Gomes limits his negative plays, he also likes to limit his positive plays. Aminu is the only one of the three who can consistently create his own shot, which helps the offense as the Clippers are often running up against the shot clock. Aminu provides the most upside and may be the best of the three players right now. If the Suns game is any indication, Vinny Del Negro has come to realize this. Al-Farouq played 22 minutes, scoring 10 points on 4 for 7 shooting, while adding four rebounds (two offensive), 1 assist, 1 block, and 1 very key steal. Gomes, by comparison, was much less productive in 31 minutes of play and Rasual Butler received a glorious DNP. There are still a myriad of things for Aminu to work on. Consistency, turnovers, and focus are points that need attending to, but Al-Farouq Aminu is going to be a very good NBA player. Let it be known — the chief has arrived.