A year after a breakout performance in his first career playoff series with the Dallas Mavericks, Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu is now preparing for an increased role this postseason versus the Los Angeles Clippers.
Though the Mavericks fell in five games to the Houston Rockets in 2015, the free-agent-to-be Aminu turned heads with his smothering defense while chipping in 11.2 points per game, double his regular-season average. The standout performance made Aminu a coveted target for the Trail Blazers over the summer, eventually making him the first free-agent signing in what was an offseason of major roster overhaul.
Aminu was one of just two players to appear -- and start -- in all 82 games for the Trail Blazers in 2015-16, averaging a career-high 10.2 points per game on 36.1% shooting from behind the three-point arc, also serving has Portland's go-to lockdown defender. Despite his limited playoff experience, Aminu is hoping to build-off last year's performance as he likely draws a matchup with Los Angeles' explosive forward Blake Griffin.
"One year, I wouldn’t say I’m a veteran in the playoffs. But it does help, every little bit helps," Aminu admitted following Friday's practice.
"Try to do a little bit of the same, you know what I mean? They have somebody I’m supposed to be guarding that they look for offensively, if I can make it tough on him, make him shoot more shots… Frustrate him, run him up the court, get him tired, foul trouble — anything I can do to get him off his game, it helps us tremendously because he’s one of the catalysts out there for him."
While he's more highly regarded for his defensive abilities rather than his shooting, Aminu has shown he can be a threat on the offensive end this season. The sixth-year pro recorded career highs of 28 and 27 points in two of final seven games of the regular season campaign.
Guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are undoubtedly the Blazers' top scoring options, each finishing in the NBA's top 20 scorers this season. The duo often draws double teams from opposing defenses, something Aminu hopes to continue to exploit against the Clippers.
"[Teams] double CJ and Dame a lot. They just want me to stand there and make open shots, so hopefully I can continue to do that… I don’t like for teams to disrespect me, so to say, you know what I mean? Not that they are doing that, but when you’re doubling somebody to the point where you’re just leaving somebody else open, I feel like any NBA player wants to be able to step up and prove that team wrong.
"I might not take all the shots every night, but that’s just because somebody else does a little bit better job of doing that."
Though he began his career as a Clipper, the matchup in the playoffs doesn't add any extra sizzle for Aminu. The general manager that drafted him in LA is the man who signed him in Portland, president of basketball operations Neil Olshey, and the team has cycled through most of the players and head coach since Aminu's time in Tinseltown.
The postseason atmosphere itself should provide all the drive the Blazer forward needs.
"I was there for a year; six months at most," Aminu pointed out. "[Olshey] is here now, [Vinny Del Negro] is somewhere else now. A few of the players are there, so it’s not really like I remember everybody that’s there. It’s been a long time, it was my first year in the league.
"It’s the playoffs, I think that’s enough right there alone."