Thursday, May 21, 2015

Free Agent Profile: Al-Farouq Aminu

Al-Farouq Aminu - SF - 6'9, 220
FA Ranking: 10

Free agency doesn't always have to be about locking down the biggest name.  Hawks fans can tell you better than anybody how well it can work when you make moves that go completely under the radar.  In my opinion, Al-Farouq Aminu is one guy who is going to go under the radar this summer and make some front office look very, very smart.  While Aminu hasn't lived up to his billing as one of the top high school recruits in the class of 2008, or as the 8th pick in the 2010 draft, he's slowly developed his game in stints with the LA Clippers, New Orleans and Dallas.  He enters unrestricted free agency this year for the second straight summer, assuming he turns down a $1.1M player option.  That's a safe assumption after Aminu proved himself to be one of the few reliable players on one of the league's worst defenses.  The Pistons would do themselves well to line up for Aminu's services, as his ability to defend both forward positions would fit wonderfully within the Pistons' long-term plans.

Al-Farouq Aminu

Aminu's numbers aren't really anything special until you get to the four columns furthest to the right.  Two numbers really jump off the page when you consider that Aminu played about half of his 2014-15 season at the SF position in 2014-15: TRB% and BLK/100.  To put Aminu's outstanding production in those two areas into perspective, you can measure them against what Pistons players did in 2014-15.  Among Pistons with more than 800 minutes played, only Andre Drummond and Josh Smith blocked more shots per 100 possessions.  His rebounding sticks out too, as the Pistons only got a better TRB% from Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, two of the league's best on the glass.  As a guy who sees a good chunk of minutes at SF, it's impressive to see Aminu produce blocks and rebounds like a PF.  Also, Aminu's 2.6 steals per 100 possessions would have easiliy led the Pistons this season among players with more than 800 minutes played.  He may not produce at a high level on offense, but as far as defensive production goes, there's nobody on the Pistons' roster and few guys around the league who can give you what Al-Farouq Aminu does.

It's not just simple production that Aminu gives you at the defensive end, he's also a standout defender in just about any individual situation you can think of.  Aminu was in the top third of the league defending isolation possessions this season among players with as many possessions defended as him or more, only allowing 0.76 points per isolation possession.  The only Pistons who performed as well or better than Aminu in iso possessions during the 2014-15 season did so in half the possessions.  He's also among the top half of defenders in post-up possessions, only allowing 0.81 points per possession in 63 defensive possessions. That number lags a bit behind what Greg Monroe and Anthony Tolliver did at PF, but destroys the numbers put up by Pistons wings this year.  Aminu would give the Pistons a definite answer for how to defend SFs the Pistons have typically had no solution for in the past few seasons.

Where Aminu truly shined defensively this season was in defending the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll and in defending shots at the rim.  Among players with as many or more defending the PnR ball-handler, only six players allowed fewer points per possession than Aminu's 0.75.  His ability to change how the team defends pick-and-rolls would be arguably the biggest benefit to signing him.  In instances where Stan Van Gundy wants to play small, you can easily switch Aminu onto a ball-handler coming off of a pick, giving the defense a more dynamic look and cutting down on scrambling against teams who run the PnR well.  Aminu was also great at defending the rim, albeit in limited attempts.  In 2.9 opponent FGA per game at the rim this season, Aminu held opponents to a brisk 41.9% shooting.  The players who posted a better opponent FG% at the rim, with as many attempts per game or more?  Andrew Bogut, Serge Ibaka, Rudy Gobert, Miles Plumlee and Clint Capela.  Opponents shot close to 56% against Aminu at the rim the season prior to this year, so be cautiously optimistic that Aminu can contribute positively to a team's last line of defense.

Any worries about signing Aminu are going to stem from his lackluster offensive production throughout his playing career.  The biggest concern is that his lack of outside shooting may derail a Pistons offense that doesn't offer any shooting at the PG and C positions, at least not when the starters are on the floor.  Any lineup featuring Aminu and starting PG Reggie Jackson would absolutely have to come with a SG and PF who can keep the defense honest.  Aminu hasn't shot above 30% from three since his rookie year, and last season saw him take a staggering 124 threes despite only shooting 27.1%.  Those are Josh Smith-like numbers, and something that would need to be addressed if Aminu is brought to town.  The good news is, Aminu offers enough lineup flexibility on the defensive end that you can play him at PF with shooters at SG and SF.  While that does offer some relief from his terrible outside shooting, the Pistons may not be willing to go after a wing who struggles to shoot the way Aminu does.  I think Aminu would have a role in Detroit, but I'm not the one calling the shots.  If the team doesn't even hint at interest in Aminu, his outside shooting is why.

Any deal Aminu gets this offseason will have to top his $1.1M player option.  Finding an offer that triples that or more annually shouldn't be hard for Aminu and his agent.  While Aminu is certainly a niche player, I wouldn't be shocked to see him get a deal for three years in the range of $4M annually, possibly going as high as $5M.  With the salary cap set to skyrocket over the next few years, a deal like that should be palatable for whatever team signs him.  With the Pistons' needs for an elite defender at both forward positions, Aminu's services may be worth more to them than the rest of the market.

Even if Aminu does get a deal toward the top end of the range mentioned above, signing him will almost certainly not be the headline of the Pistons' offseason.  With approximately $25M in cap space to play around with, giving Aminu a three year, $15M deal would leave Stan Van Gundy and the front office with $20M to improve the rest of the roster.  Depending on who the Pistons take with the 8th pick, the remaining cap space would have to be put towards signing another SF (unnecessary if the team takes Stanley Johnson or Mario Hezonja), a starting caliber PF (a likely need regardless of pick) and two backup Cs to fill out the team's depth chart.  For the sake of putting together a picture of what an offseason might look like that includes Aminu, let's assume the Pistons draft SF Mario Hezonja at #8 and C Dakari Johnson at #38, and make the following signings:
  • SF Al-Farouq Aminu: 3 years, $15M
  • PF Paul Millsap: 4 years, $60M
  • C Bismack Biyombo: 3 years, $9M
  • PF Robbie Hummel: 2 years, $3M
It's a bold assumption that Millsap would be willing to leave Atlanta, hence the hefty contract.  The other signings seem very realistic.  That leaves a depth chart that looks as follows:

Reggie Jackson
Brandon Jennings
Spencer Dinwiddie
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Jodie Meeks
Cartier Martin
Al-Farouq Aminu
Mario Hezonja
Quincy Miller
Paul Millsap
Anthony Tolliver
Robbie Hummel
Andre Drummond
Bismack Biyombo
Dakari Johnson

 I don't know if I'm thrilled with that group starting the season, but there's room for improvement, specifically with Hezonja waiting in the wings.  In the best case scenario, KCP makes a leap in his third year and Hezonja proves to be every bit worth the hype.  If that happens, Hezonja moves into the starting lineup at some point, bumping Aminu to the bench, where he fits excellently with three players who can shoot the ball in Jennings/Dinwiddie, Meeks and Tolliver.  If neither of the young wings make a leap, you're in deep trouble counting on Aminu as a long-term starter.  That's why I would be a bit hesitant to sign Aminu if the Pistons go with a wing at #8.  I would much rather see Aminu signed as the backup to a more prominent wing, such as Khris Middleton or Danny Green, and the Pistons trading down or taking a PF at 8.  As I say in every free agent post, there's obviously a lot of projection going on here and this isn't meant to be a realistic scenario.

Aminu may not be the first player that comes to mind when thinking of the Pistons' needs this offseason, but he would be a major improvement on the team's past options defensively at both forward spots.  His poor outside shooting makes him a bit of an odd fit, but it would be nice to finally have an answer when the Pistons face the league's top offensive SFs.  Fitting Aminu into the team's bigger offseason picture may be a bit tricky, but if they can figure out how to do it right, Aminu could very well outplay a contract in the $4M range annually.  It's worth a shot with the cap about to skyrocket and the Pistons needing to fix a SF position that's been bereft of even average talent since Tayshaun Prince was in his prime.

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