Continuity a key to Al-Farouq Aminu’s progress in New Orleans

July 19, 2013

LAS VEGAS — Amid numerous headline-generating New Orleans Pelicans transactions this month, at least one free-agent signing flew mostly under the radar, but could be critical to the team’s 2013-14 fortunes. On a roster that now includes four players who averaged 15-plus points per game last season, Al-Farouq Aminu (6.3 career points per game) isn’t likely to be a go-to offensive option or the man with the ball in his hands in make-or-break sequences. But given the firepower at the club’s disposal, some of Aminu’s biggest strengths may become even more valuable.

Aminu, who was officially re-signed by New Orleans last week, led the team in steals last season (1.21 per game) and was its second-leading rebounder (7.7 per game). In an area that doesn’t show up in the box score, the athletic 6-foot-9 small forward was also given the toughest defensive assignment on a nightly basis.

After being blindsided by a December 2011 trade to New Orleans after just one season with the Los Angeles Clippers, Aminu is grateful to be entering a third straight season with the same NBA team. His first season in the Crescent City was admittedly riddled with inconsistency, but he appeared much more comfortable in 2012-13. Aminu started 71 times at small forward, including each of his final 50 appearances. He closed the 82-game schedule with a flourish, grabbing a career-best 20 rebounds at Dallas. It’s been part of a gradual progression he hopes will continue next season.

“I think the trade, I didn’t even notice it at the time, but it kind of threw me off,” Aminu said this week. “It was a lockout year, then there was a big trade. I didn’t even realize how it affected me (mentally). But now that I’m in New Orleans and enjoying myself, I’m happy. Not that I was mad at the situation, but being such a young player at the time, I thought more (negatively) of (what it meant) being traded than I should have. Now I’m just able to go out there and play and have fun.”

While discussing his decision to return to New Orleans, Aminu frequently cited the Pelicans’ coaches, who have often provided tough love to the budding pro. Aminu made enormous strides last season in terms of narrowing his focus to what he does best on the floor. The result was improved shot selection and a reduction in careless turnovers. His field-goal percentage skyrocketed from a subpar 41.1 to 47.5, partly because he relied far less on perimeter shots. He sliced his three-point attempts from 47 to 19, despite logging 589 more minutes.

“I allowed coaches to coach me, and I reaped the benefits of that,” he said. “We have a great coaching staff, and they’re going to push you hard every day. But at the end of the day, they want what’s best for you. And you want what’s best for yourself. It all worked out.

“More than just the contract, what I’m happy about is just to be able to come back with this team that I’ve been able to grow with for the last couple years. It’s been a great opportunity for me, and I don’t take it for granted. I appreciate it. I really enjoy the challenge ahead and look to do my best.”

While many NBA analysts have noted that New Orleans managed to add talent, yet still somehow got younger with the additions of 23-year-olds Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, Aminu is only 22. He played in several of the same AAU events in high school and has watched from afar as Holiday and Evans developed into two of the game’s most potent offensive players.

“I know them from different AAU tournaments and things like that,” Aminu said. “To see how they’ve grown and to know that we’re going to be able to play together at this point in our lives, it’s funny how the world works sometimes. Jrue is a great player. He’s proven himself in this league. He’s blossomed. So has Tyreke. He’s had the same opportunities, and done a lot with it. I’m happy for both of those guys and very happy to play with them now.

“Any time you have young guys who are trying to build something together, it brings chemistry that you can’t duplicate. To play with all of these good players is just a bonus. It’s great. I can’t wait to start playing.”