Aminu Was Impressed With Magic When Playing Against Them

Aminu expects to fit in extremely well in Orlando
by John Denton

ORLANDO – In the first two months of last season, the Orlando Magic and Portland Trail Blazers faced off twice and forward Al-Farouq Aminu came away from those games convinced that the Magic were a team on the rise because of the problems they present to foes with their collective defensive length.

Fast forward to April, when the Magic closed the regular season with a stirring 22-9 run and reached the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, and Aminu was the least shocked person in the NBA that Orlando was suddenly a factor in the postseason once again.

``When we played them it hit me, `Wow, this team is really hard to play against,’’’ Aminu recalled when he was still a member of the Blazers. ``They’re long and good defensively and I thought, `Man, this team could be really good if they figure it out.’ You don’t follow every team during the season, but then at the end of the season I was like, `Wow, the Magic are in the playoffs.’’’

Aminu, a lengthy and versatile defender himself, wanted to be a part of the Magic’s movement and he jumped at the chance to sign with them when Orlando President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman pursued him early in the NBA’s free-agency courting period.

Already, the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Aminu is wondering just how defensively dominant the Magic can be next season when he’s on the floor with the likes of 7-foot center Nikola Vucevic and 6-11 and 6-9 forwards Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon. Like Gordon and Isaac, Aminu has the length and strength to body up against foes in the post and also the lateral quickness to check them on the perimeter.

Last season, the Magic ranked eighth in the NBA in defensive rating (107.6 points per 100 possessions), 11thin field goal percentage allowed (45.6), 10thin 3-point percentage allowed (34.7), third defensive rebound percentage (75.4), sixth in blocked shots (5.4), first in fewest second-chance points allowed (10.9), third in fewest fast break points allowed (14.7) and eighth in fewest points in the paint allowed (47.2). Now, with the long-armed Aminu also in the mix, the Magic have the potential to be even more suffocating defensively.

``I remember when I played here, I was like, `Man, these dudes are long! It’s hard to get a shot off against them,’’’ Aminu said again of his memories of the Magic. ``It just makes it tough when you’re facing a lot of guys with long arms and they’re agile.

``I just think with me coming in, we can be really good defensively,’’ he added. ``Like I’ve said, last year with the way that they ended the year and made the playoffs – if that would have just been somebody getting hot and making a few shots, maybe I would have thought that it was a one-off year (for the Magic in the postseason). But with the way that they play defense here, you feel like these guys are only going to get better and we can build upon that. And with me being here to help out the young guys, teaching them how to play defense not just physically but also mentally, I think we can be even better. That’s a scary thing to think about, for sure.’’

There was nothing scary for the Magic to think about when it came down to adding Aminu, a nine-year veteran who has appeared in the NBA playoffs each of the past five seasons. Weltman, a veteran of 30 years of pro basketball experience, raved about Aminu’s reputation throughout the NBA as ``a legendary teammate.’’ And while his career stats of 7.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1,0 steals and 0.6 blocked shots a game might not be eye-popping, Aminu’s impact on the Magic in the future very well could be, Weltman predicted.

``Al-Farouq will be a significant player for us and he’s someone who is about all the right things,’’ Weltman raved. ``The guy impacts winning everywhere he goes and he’s of the highest character and he’s a team-first guy. The only guys we’re looking for are ones who impact winning and he does that. He’s proven it and we’re all excited to have him on our side.’’

Aminu, who will turn 29 nine days before the Magic open training camp at the Amway Center, has been on the side of winners much of his career since being selected No. 8 overall in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. Aminu was born in Atlanta to Nigerian parents and his first name means ``the Chief has arrived’’ in his parents’ native culture. The name is a fitting one considering that he is a descendent of a line of Nigerian kings and literally a Nigerian prince.

Aminu played like royalty in the NBA playoffs in 2016 (14.6 ppg. on 40 percent 3-point shooting in 11 games), 2017 (12 ppg. on 41.2 percent 3-point shooting in four games) and 2018 (17.3 ppg. on 43.3 percent 3-point shooting in four games) for the Trail Blazers, but he struggled somewhat this past spring as Portland advanced to the Western Conference Finals (7.4 ppg. on 29.4 percent 3-point shooting in 16 games).

Defense, however, is where he’s made his mark in helping teams have success. This past season in Portland, Aminu averaged 1.9 pass deflections a game – a number that would have tied for first on the Magic with Isaac (1.9). He also used his length, quickness and high basketball IQ to contest 7.5 shots a game – a number that would have ranked fourth on the Magic.

That willingness to defend, and to do the gritty things that teams need, is all done in the name of winning, Aminu said.

``The last five years I’ve had, as they say, quick summers and it’s been nice,’’ Aminu said of going to the playoffs every year from 2014-19. ``(Winning) is what I want to model myself after. If you could pick something that you want to put your hat on, it would be winning. I’ve made the decision that’s the type of player that I’m going to be, and I think it will pay off for me. Winning is all that I’m worried about.’’

Aminu has never worried about scoring the most points or chasing fame, and those are some of the attributes that endear him to teammates. All-star guard Damian Lillard once told a story of Aminu scoring a team-high 16 points in the first half of a game in Miami a few seasons ago and getting just one field goal attempt in the second half because of a variety of circumstances. Lillard pointed out that Aminu never said an angry word about the team straying from his offensive game afterward because he’s simply not wired that way. Instead of fame, Aminu said, he prefers to win and to garner the respect of others in the NBA.

``When my peers are thinking that I’m a good player and are thinking that I’m a good dude, that means so much to me,’’ he said. ``That’s kind of, in a sense, why you get into this. If you don’t have the respect of your peers, then what’s the point?’’

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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