Aminu Fitting in Well With New Team

Magic teammates rave about forward's versatility and work ethic
by John Denton

ORLANDO – Like a kid moving into a new school who knows little about his surroundings or the people closest to him, Al-Farouq Aminu is trying to integrate himself onto an Orlando Magic team that is experiencing unprecedented continuity with 12 players back from last season.

It’s a good thing that he is so incredibly versatile – both on the basketball court and off of it in terms of blending in to fit the needs of whatever team he is on. Otherwise, he might be shunned and looked at as an outsider, Aminu playfully joked when asked recently about his transition.

Instead, the 29-year-old, do-everything forward is expected to fit in quite nicely on a Magic squad that stresses defense and one that fully embraces his toughness, playoff-tested experience and willingness to do the dirty work that usually make his teams successful.

Aminu, who was born in Atlanta and played collegiately at Wake Forest, is a descendent of Nigerian kings, and his full name translates into, ``The Chief has arrived.’’ Thus far, the nine-year NBA veteran nicknamed, ``The Chief’’ has liked what he has seen with Orlando’s strong culture and its desire to win at a high level.

``We do a lot of great things here defensively, and that’s where you are going to end up winning or losing games most of the time,’’ said Aminu, who has been a part of five playoff teams in his NBA career. ``Offensively, it comes and goes sometimes, but we have a defense that is long and agile. We’re still learning all of our spots, but it’s been a nice preseason so far and we’re going to continue to jell and get better.’’

The Magic, 3-2 in the preseason and off until Thursday’s exhibition-season finale against the Miami Heat (7 p.m., TV: Fox Sports Florida) at the Amway Center, hope to be even better defensively than they were last season with the addition of the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Aminu. Orlando had the NBA’s eighth-best defensive rating over last season (107.6 point allowed per 100 possessions), but it ranked atop the league over the final 31 games in that all-important defensive category (104.9 points allowed per 100 possessions).

In many ways, the long-armed and high-energy Aminu is a Swiss Army knife of sorts when it comes to defense. Because of his ability to muscle up with power forwards in the post while also still having the lateral quickness and length to annoy small forwards on the perimeter, Magic head coach Steve Clifford will have the option of using Aminu in a variety of ways. In addition to having Aminu provide support for starting forwards Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac, Clifford has even said he wants to experiment with an ultra-small-ball lineup using all three forwards along the same frontline.

Clearly, the options are many now with a player as versatile as Aminu in the fold, Clifford said, and he already likes how the veteran forward has adapted to his new team.

``It won’t take him long to adjust to what we’re doing,’’ said Magic coach Steve Clifford, who lauded the forward’s work against 7-foot, 280-pound center Joel Embiid when he got switched onto him in Sunday’s most recent preseason game. ``I remember (former NBA player) Gary Neal telling me one year when we picked him up at the trade deadline – and he had played for a bunch of different coaches – `Everybody runs 90 percent of the same offense with different names and you’ve just got to get the names and coverages down.’ But guys like Farouq, he’s been around, he knows how to play, and he has high IQ. He’s picked things up really quickly.’’

Last season while playing for the Portland Trail Blazers, Aminu averaged 9.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.8 steals a game while shooting 43.3 percent from the floor and 34.3 percent from beyond the 3-point line. However, those numbers barely scratch the surface in detailing the gritty defense and dirty work that he brings to a team.

In 28.3 minutes a game for the Blazers last season, Aminu averaged 1.9 pass deflections – a number that would have tied Isaac’s team-best 1.9 deflections a night for the Magic. He led the Blazers in contesting 3-point shots (3.0 a night) – a mark that would have also been near the top of the Magic’s statistics. Also, because of his ability to play inside and out, Aminu got a contest in on 7.4 shots a night – a number right in line with what Isaac (7.7) and Gordon (6.5) did for Orlando.

Magic all-star center Nikola Vucevic, the longest-tenured player on the team, has already been impressed with what he has learned about Aminu both as a person and a basketball player.

``Off the court, he’s a very good guy, a good veteran, a good worker and a good teammate – a lot of the positive things that I heard before have been confirmed,’’ Vucevic said. ``On the court, he’s a guy who can play (power forward) and (small forward), he’s good with the ball, uses his hands great (on defense) and he can shoot it. He just gives us an extra guy to play that (power forward/small forward) spot, which is really important now in the NBA. Obviously, we play very different than Portland and his role will be different, but I think he can help us a whole lot.’’

In Portland, the offense usually relied around the many talents of stars Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, and Aminu was often asked to be the ``3-and-D’’ player who created spacing for the ball-dominant guards. In Orlando, he’ll be asked to be more involved in the flow of the offense – whether that involves cutting to the rim for open looks, posting up against mismatches or drilling 3-pointers when defenses sag inside on Vucevic, Isaac and/or Gordon.

``Obviously, it’s different and (the Magic and Blazers) are different teams, but the NBA is still the NBA,’’ he said. ``My role is what it is – making sure I can space the floor (offensively) and be versatile (defensively) doing a lot of different things. (His role) has changed a little bit (in Orlando), being that I’m not in as many pick-and-rolls as I used to be in (in Portland), but there’s more movement here (with the Magic). It’s just two ways to skin a cat, so to speak.’’

Portland shocked the basketball world each of the past two postseasons – by getting bounced out of the first round of the playoffs in 2018 and by reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2019. Personally, Aminu experienced those highs and lows in vastly different ways. In the 2018 first-round sweep against New Orleans, he was never better, averaging 17.3 points and shooting 43.3 percent from 3-pont range in four playoff games. However, he didn’t shoot the ball well in the playoffs this past spring (34.9 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from 3-point range) and saw his playing time slashed.

A career 42.3 percent shooter from the floor with a 33.7 percent accuracy rate from 3-point range, Aminu is confident that he will have a solid bounce-back season with the Magic. In five preseason games thus far, he’s shot 47.1 percent from the floor and 38.5 percent from the 3-point line while averaging 8.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.0 steals.

``(His 3-point shooting) is better than it was before,’’ Aminu said of his shooting struggles early in his career. ``It used to be a glaring deficiency that I had. I think (the shooting percentage) has risen enough that a team can trust me to make open shots.’’

The Magic have already learned enough about Aminu to know that they can trust him as the newcomer to the group. So far, Aminu has figured out that veteran point guard D.J. Augustin is the funniest player in the locker room because he ``likes to keep it light.’’ And he’s learned that the fiery Clifford brings intensity and an attention to detail to every practice. And he is confident he’s going to fit right in on a Magic squad that’s mostly still intact from last season.

``It’s a great group of guys, first and foremost, and they have made it easy to get adjusted,’’ he said. ``Everybody has been very helpful top-to-bottom, from the coaches to the players, just helping me get acclimated and used to every little thing. I think we’re starting to jell together nicely and it’s all coming along for me.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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