Al-Farouq Aminu

Northwest Notes: Aminu, Thunder, Timberwolves

Before he signed with the Trail Blazers as a free agent in 2015, veteran forward Al-Farouq Aminu had converted just 28.6% of his career three-point attempts. However, he knew he’d be counted on to improve his outside shot after signing a lucrative four-year deal with Portland, and he has delivered so far. Aminu has made 36.1% of his threes during his time with the Blazers, including a career-best 42.1% this season.

“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,” Aminu said, per Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com. “But you learn, for sure, because you want to stick around.”

Aminu remains under contract in Portland for one more season beyond this year, but if he continues to knock down outside shots at an improve rate, he should be a very appealing three-and-D target in free agency in 2019.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Thunder forward Patrick Patterson was fined $10K this week for publicly criticizing the NBA’s officiating, per an Associated Press report. After a blown call cost OKC a game on Friday, Patterson published a tweet on Saturday suggesting that there “needs to be some kind of consequence for [referees’] downright awfulness rather than pointless apologies from their bosses.”
  • Second-year guard Alex Abrines continues to make more than 38% of his three-point attempts, but his inconsistency on the defensive end has cost him minutes with the Thunder, writes Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. Given his $5.725MM salary, Abrines could become a nice mid-sized trade chip for the Thunder at the deadline if he’s not a regular part of the club’s rotation.
  • The positive energy surrounding the Timberwolves as of late has been noticeable, as the new-look roster is hitting its stride. “I feel like everyone’s comfortable,” Andrew Wiggins said, per Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. “Everyone’s together. Everyone’s playing together. Everyone likes each other. We’re in a good flow right now.”

Northwest Notes: Roberson, Aminu, J. Johnson, Craig

The Thunder’s slow start reached a new low tonight with a loss in Orlando, leaving a team expected to be among the NBA’s best after trading for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony with an 8-12 record and a 2-9 mark on the road. Part of the problem, suggests Erik Horne of The Oklahoman, is that Andre Roberson is an awkward fit in the starting lineup.

The starters perform well in the first quarter with a net rating [point differential per 100 possessions] of 23.8, the fourth-best mark in the league. However, their third quarter rating drops to 88.5, worst among the 16 NBA lineups that have played at least 60 minutes as a unit. Roberson is a defensive specialist, but opponents don’t respect his outside shot, especially from 3-point range, where he is hitting just 27%. Horne notes that Jerami Grant and Raymond Felton have logged nearly three times as many fourth quarter minutes as Roberson.

“I don’t necessarily feel like he’s uncomfortable,” coach Billy Donovan said of Roberson. “I do feel, with him getting acclimated to a new team, I just think some of that stuff’s going to take time. I’m not making excuses for our team, just dealing with the reality.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Trail Blazers will welcome forward Al-Farouq Aminu back Thursday night after missing 13 games with a sprained right ankle, relays Casey Holdahl of NBA.com. Portland expected Aminu to return in two to three weeks after he suffered the injury in a November 1 game, but he wound up missing almost the entire month. “It felt good to be back out there with the guys,” Aminu said after today’s practice. “Being able to contribute is always a good thing.”
  • Joe Johnson is making progress with his wrist injury and will be re-evaluated in two weeks, according to a story on the Jazz website. Johnson, who has been diagnosed with tendon instability in his right wrist, had another meeting with a hand specialist Tuesday. The 17-year veteran has played just seven games this season.
  • After three years of playing overseas, Nuggets forward Torrey Craig got his first taste of NBA action Tuesday, writes Christopher Dempsey of NBA.com. The 26-year-old signed a two-way contract over the summer and was called up to Denver this week after averaging 25.7 points per game in the G League. “It wasn’t too many nerves,” he said. “I’ve been playing basketball for a long time. So, I’m well adjusted to the atmosphere, to the game of basketball.”

Northwest Notes: Jokic, Ferguson, Aminu

The time is now for Nikola Jokic to blossom into a leader. Nuggets head coach Mike Malone recently told his third-year big man as much given the absence of veteran power forward Paul Millsap in the lineup, Gina Mizell of the Denver Post writes.

The Nuggets have stressed that they need to see Jokic exhibit more leadership qualities, his production on the floor, while impressive, no longer enough for a young team eager to claim its first playoff berth since 2013.

Mizell writes that Jokic came through this week, uncharacteristically speaking up to motivate a lethargic looking Nuggets roster one night and then showing off his mental toughness by returning to the court on an injured ankle the next time out.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

Al-Farouq Aminu Expected To Miss 2-3 Weeks

Al-Farouq Aminu, the Trail Blazers’ starting small forward, will be sidelined for the next two or three weeks due to a sprained right ankle, writes Mike Richman of The Oregonian. The club has confirmed the diagnosis and the timeline.

Aminu, 27, had been off to a solid start this season, averaging 9.4 PPG and a career-high 8.1 RPG through eight games. He was also knocking down three-pointers at a career-high rate, making 1.6 per game with a .433 3PT%.

“It’s tough,” Damian Lillard said of his teammate on Thursday. “Chief (Aminu) is a huge part of our team. He does a lot of things that might not get mentioned all the time, might not show up on the stat sheet, but he’s as big a part of our team as just about anybody. Whatever the situation might be somebody’s going to have to step up and we’re going to have to figure out a way to get some wins.”

While Aminu will be sidelined until later in November, the Blazers did get another injured power forward, Noah Vonleh, back this week. Vonleh shifted into the starting lineup for Portland on Thursday in what was just his second game of the season.

Rookies Caleb Swanigan and Zach Collins also could see a bump in playing time during Aminu’s absence, while Maurice Harkless may see more minutes at power forward, Richman writes.

Northwest Notes: Murray, Aminu, Hernangomez

The Nuggets have an opportunity to develop Jamal Murray into a significant part of their franchise for years to come, they just need to make sure that they handle things better than Denver’s NFL counterpart has handled their quarterback situation, Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post writes.

Those unfamiliar with the Broncos depth chart need only know that the club has attempted to eke into the postseason with a short-term quarterback rather than organically developing their younger, higher-ceiling, long-term quarterback. Kiszla fears that a hasty acquisition of Eric Bledsoe could put the Nuggets in a similarly short-sighted position.

While nobody is denying that Bledsoe is a solid NBA player, Kiszla writes that the Nuggets would be better off giving Murray the opportunity to learn to be a solid starter. The club should push his learning curve to find out just what he’s capable of.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

Northwest Notes: Stephenson, Turner, Blazers

Newly acquired Timberwolves guard Lance Stephenson squared off against his former team Friday and Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry had nothing but positive things to say about the 26-year-old journeyman, writes Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune.

We had no problem whatsoever with him,” Gentry said regarding New Orleans’ decision to waive the then-15th man on their roster after a groin injury in November. “As a matter of fact, he probably raised our energy level as much as anyone. I think he’ll be fine. He’s playing for a great [Timberwolves] coach who loves energy and toughness and stuff like that.”

The Pelicans faced criticism at the time for parting ways with Stephenson as he recovered from the long-term injury but did so to free up space on their roster for Archie Goodwin (who has since been waived). Now Stephenson is back at full strength and on a 10-day contract looking to stick in Minnesota with a Timberwolves roster led by head coach Tom Thibodeau.

In two games with the Timberwolves so far, Stephenson has posted 3.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game. He’ll make $72K with Minnesota over the duration of his 10-day contract, in addition to the $1.2MM he’s owed by the Pelicans.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • The news that Trail Blazers swingman Evan Turner will miss 5-6 weeks comes just as the offseason acquisition was starting to find a rhythm in Portland, writes Mike Richman of The Oregonian. Turner’s absence could thrust Allen Crabbe and Moe Harkless into a bigger role defensively where Turner had been checking the opposing team’s most potent perimeter threat. In the same column, Richman also discusses the progress that Al-Farouq Aminu has made on the offensive end since being relegated to the bench.
  • With a 23-31 record, the Trail Blazers remain very much in the hunt for the final Western Conference playoff berth (Denver sits in the eight-seed at 24-29) but TNT analyst Kenny Smith is skeptical that they have enough resources. “I don’t think they have a lot of talent, honestly. I think that’s the problem,” Smith said. Molly Blue of The Oregonian relayed both Smith’s and Charles Barkley‘s reservations about the guard-heavy roster.
  • When budding Nuggets star Nikola Jokic dropped 40 points on the Knicks Friday, he became just the second Denver player to do so in Madison Square Garden, writes Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post. The last? David Thompson in 1978,

Western Rumors: Bogut, Blazers, Lawson

Mavs center Andrew Bogut is willing to come off the bench, Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News reports. That would allow coach Rick Carlisle to start Dirk Nowitzki at center. “He offered to come off the bench, if that’s a better situation for us,” Carlisle told Sefko. “You don’t often get a player of his stature offering to come off the bench for the betterment of the team. But because of his suggestion and this situation, we have that as an option.” Nowitzki faces difficult defense challenges playing power forward against more mobile players and is not used to coming off the bench. The downside is that Bogut is generally considered one of the league’s premier defensive big men.

In other news around the Western Conference:

  • The Trail Blazers need to find improvement from within rather than seeking a solution on the open market, Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com argues. Portland’s defensive issues stem from its conservative approach, which forces the second fewest turnovers in the league, Pelton continues. He also points out that the Blazers have to cut down on their penchant for fouling and improve their defensive rebounding. Injuries to forward Al-Farouq Aminu have also contributed to their defensive decline, Pelton adds.
  • There will be no suspensions or fines regarding the altercation on Tuesday between Rockets forward Trevor Ariza and Mavs center Salah Mejri, according to Mark Berman of Fox 26. Ariza was ejected after taking exception to something that Mejri said. After the game, Ariza and some of his teammates tried unsuccessfully to confront Mejri outside the Dallas locker room. The game was also marred by eight technical fouls and two flagrant fouls.
  • Backup point guard Ty Lawson is reviving his career with the Kings, as Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee examines in a column. Lawson has tenuous job security because of his non-guaranteed contract, Voisin notes, but he has become a big part of the Kings’ rotation. He averaged 15.5 points and 4.3 assists during a four-game winning streak that ended on Wednesday night. “He makes the game really easy for people and gets up and down the floor, and gets in the paint,” coach Dave Joerger told Voisin. “He’s playing really well. It’s been a successful week because of Ty Lawson.” Lawson’s $1,315,448 salary becomes guaranteed if he’s on the roster beyond January 10.

Injury Updates: Bogut, Parker, J.R. Smith

After leaving Monday night’s game against the Hornets with an apparent leg injury, Mavericks center Andrew Bogut has initially been diagnosed with a hyperextended knee, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. MacMahon reports that Bogut will undergo an MRI on Tuesday, which the team is hoping will confirm that initial diagnosis.

As head coach Rick Carlisle said, the Mavericks believe they “dodged a bullet” on Bogut’s injury, which could have been much more serious, but the veteran center will still likely be sidelined for multiple weeks, per MacMahon. Bogut should return to the court well in advance of February’s trade deadline, and by the time he gets back in the lineup, the Mavs’ hopes of making a run at a playoff spot may have further dwindled, increasing the likelihood that the former No. 1 pick gets dealt. MacMahon reported on Monday that Dallas isn’t shopping Bogut at the moment, but could consider a move in the new year if the chance to make the postseason slips away.

Here are a few more injury notes and updates from around the NBA:

  • Having missed two games with a thigh contusion, Tony Parker returned to the Spurs‘ lineup on Monday, but was sidelined again with an apparent knee injury. There’s no official word on Parker’s situation yet, but head coach Gregg Popovich said the point guard’s latest injury could keep him out for an extended period (link via ESPN.com).
  • J.R. Smith didn’t return to the Cavaliers‘ game on Monday against Toronto after suffering a left knee injury in the first quarter. As Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com details, initial X-rays were negative, but Smith will be further evaluated to determine the extent of the injury.
  • While the aforementioned players were being knocked out of action, one injured player returned to his team’s lineup on Monday, as Al-Farouq Aminu was active for the Trail Blazers after being sidelined for nearly a month due to a calf injury (Associated Press link via ESPN.com). Aminu saw 17 minutes of action in his return for Portland.

Al-Farouq Aminu Out Indefinitely

Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu will be sidelined for at least a “couple of weeks” due to a calf injury, Casey Holdahl of NBA.com reports. Coach Terry Stotts told members of the media that Aminu would be “reevaluated in a couple weeks,” which means that the 6’9″ forward will be in street clothes for the rest of the month, if not longer.

The 26-year-old suffered a left calf strain during Portland’s victory versus the Suns on November 8th. Aminu did not play in the Blazers’ loss to the Clippers on Wednesday, with Noah Vonleh getting the start in his place. The loss of Aminu certainly places additional strain on the team’s frontcourt depth, with Festus Ezeli already out until December with knee woes.

Aminu, who is earning $7,680,965 this season, has appeared in eight games thus far, averaging 6.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.5 steals in 26.1 minutes per outing. His shooting line is .279/.250/.533.

Blazers Notes: Whiteside, Aminu, Turner, Offseason

As we detailed on Tuesday, the Trail Blazers blew away their Northwest rivals when it came to offseason spending, committing more than $242MM ($234MM+ guaranteed) to free agent contracts. By comparison, the other four Northwest clubs combined to commit about $85MM to free agents. And the Blazers’ total doesn’t even include the $106MM extension that the club handed out to C.J. McCollum last week.

Considering so many of the Blazers’ big signings were players who were already on the team’s roster, it remains to be seen whether the franchise will take another step forward in the Western Conference picture this season. Zach Lowe of ESPN.com examined the situation in Portland in his latest column, and passed along a few interesting tidbits, so let’s round them up…

  • According to Lowe, the Blazers would have liked to make a run at Hassan Whiteside in free agency, but were “spurned” by the young center, who didn’t waste much time in agreeing to a new deal with the Heat. With Whiteside no longer in play, the Blazers could have pursued another center like Dwight Howard, Bismack Biyombo, or Ian Mahinmi, but ultimately went in another direction.
  • The Blazers’ decision to sign McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, and Meyers Leonard to pricey long-term contracts means that the team won’t have any cap room to work with for the foreseeable future. “Good players on favorable contracts are more valuable to us than cap room,” Blazers GM Neil Olshey said. “Especially in an era where all 30 teams have cap room — or the ability to get it. … With our interest in extending C.J., we weren’t going to be a cap room team next year, anyway.”
  • As Lowe observes, the Blazers are currently projected to be in luxury-tax territory in 2017/18 and perhaps 2018/19 as well. However, he notes that if the new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes a new amnesty clause for each team, as the last CBA did, Portland could have an opportunity to avoid that fate.
  • Stotts tells Lowe that the Blazers intend to play Al-Farouq Aminu almost exclusively at power forward rather than small forward. As Lowe points out, that could be bad news for Noah Vonleh.
  • Damian Lillard‘s work ethic helps dictate the culture of selflessness in Portland, which will help ensure that all the players with huge new contracts will continue to work hard. Sources tell Lowe that when one recent draft pick entered the NBA “carrying a whiff of entitlement,” the Portland coaching staff pointed to Lillard and essentially said: “He’s way better than you, and he’s working harder.”
  • Olshey on the Blazers paying $70MM+ to both Crabbe and Turner: “The way the game is being played, plus the dearth of available wings, made us willing to pay a premium for two impact players that fit our model.” The GM is also confident that Turner will improve his outside shooting in Portland.
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