Jan 2, 2018 1:34 AM ET
Before he signed with the Trail Blazers as a free agent during the 2015 offseason, Al-Farouq Aminu had never really considered himself to be much of a three-point shooter. Though he took 143 threes during his rookie season with the Clippers, he wouldn’t attempt more than 48 threes in any of his next three seasons. And when he did dramatically increase his three-point attempts in his first and only season with the Dallas Mavericks, he shot just 27 percent, which slightly worse than his career average from behind the arch at the time.
But when he signed with Portland as a free agent in 2015, Aminu knew he’d have to get serious about improving his three-point shot for the benefit of his new team and his own career.
“I’ve always been a slasher, so knowing the instincts and what you’re supposed to be doing as a shooter and how they need you for a team, it’s different,” said Aminu. “But you learn, for sure, because you want to stick around.”
So Aminu put in the time to turn himself into a respectable shooter. He took 349 threes his first season in Portland, which was just 32 attempts less than he had taken in his first five seasons combined, hitting on 36 percent of those attempts. His attempts dipped to 213 and his accuracy to 33 percent last season, leading some to speculate that perhaps his 2015-16 percentage was more of an outlier than a harbinger of things to come.
But through 22 games this season, Aminu is shooting 41 percent from three and has four games with at least five three-pointers, including his performance on New Year’s Day in Chicago, which saw the 6-9 forward go 5-of-7 from three, with all of those makes coming after the halftime intermission, to finish with a season-high 24 points in Portland’s 124-120 overtime victory.
“Not doing anything different, just being in the system a little longer I guess, just knowing where my shots are coming from,” said Aminu of his improved three-point accuracy this season. “That really helps me out. Just remembering, even though sometimes I do want to get to the basket because it’s what I’m used to, the team needs me to take the shot and that’s the growth that I have to continue to remember and excel at.”
The confidence that Aminu has developed in his shot through practice and familiarity with Terry Stotts’ system has been noticed by his teammates this season. At times in his last two campaigns, Aminu has felt that perhaps he was shooting a bit too much, prompting him to thrown a pumpfake and drive to the basket when what the team really needed was for his to take the three. But that hasn’t been the case this season, at least not nearly as often.
“He’s shooting it real confident,” said Damian Lillard. “I think from the start, he’s seen the ball go in a lot. Usually when guys see the ball go in and they get on a roll, they feeling really good about they shot. With him there hasn’t been any hesitation, and I know the confidence is there because he’s shooting from beyond the line, he’s catching and raising up not thinking about it and that says a lot about where a guy is mentally with his shot.”
While that confidence is important in terms of Aminu’s makes, it also plays a role in helping him overcome his misses, particularly the bad misses. His shooting form is functional but far from textbook, which results from time to time in the kind of misses that tend to be more memorable than what you usually see from more natural shooters.
But he’s not phased by the occasional airball or attempt that hits the side of the backboard, as he has come to understand that in order to hit the next shot, he needs to forget about the last.
“The bad ones, sometimes because you’re just catching and raising up, a guy might have closed out really good that time, you know what I mean, and I had to just throw it, so to say, in order for it not to get blocked,” said Aminu. “It look really bad and everybody like ‘Oh, what is he doing?’ But it’s like, I know what I did, I had to shoot it so the next time, I don’t hesitate. I have to kind of live with chucking some up there in order to, in a sense, not hesitate.”
Which he didn’t do Monday night in Chicago. After only taking two three-pointers in the first three quarters, neither of which found the mark, Aminu went 4-of-4 from deep in the fourth quarter to help Portland send the game to overtime. He hit his first three with 9:53 to play in regulation and he followed that up with another roughly 40 seconds later.
The same thing happened late in the game, with Aminu hitting two more threes in a span of 21 seconds. His last make came early in the overtime, which gave Portland a four-point lead and the momentum they would need to come away with their 11th road win of the season.
“The other looks were good, just didn’t go in,” said Aminu with a chuckle. “But after the one went in, you want to shoot the next one because you’re thinking it could be that day. So then when the next one went in, it was just like I was headhunting for my shots. It’s just how it goes, just try to play off a hot hand. That’s basketball.”