• Leading up to the Portland Trail Blazers’ season-opener against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at Moda Center on October 18, HoopBall is profiling the team’s 15 players with guaranteed contracts, in reverse order of price.

    Prior entries: Zach CollinsSeth CurryWade BaldwinAnfernee SimonsCaleb SwaniganNik StauskasJake LaymanGary Trent, Jr.

    Player: Al-Farouq Aminu

    2018-19 salary: $6,957,105

    Position: forward

    Age, experience: 20, second year

    Measureables: 6-foot-9, 220 pounds (7-foot-3 and 1/4 inch wingspan)

    Strengths: defensive versatility, length, quickness, hands, defensive rebounding, ball security

    Weaknesses: ball handling, isolation scoring, finishing,

    Swing factor: spot-up 3-point shooting

    Likely role: starting forward, defensive stopper

    Playing for a better team, one with multiple high-level creators and spot-up marksmen, Al-Farouq Aminu might be considered the modern game’s preeminent role player. But for the Portland Trail Blazers, stuck in the muck between realistic hopes of contention and a steadfast adherence to rebuilding, the progress Aminu made in 2017-18 was almost entirely overlooked on a national level. More frustrating, his strong playoff performance was obscured by the Blazers’ struggles, exacerbating the weakness he’s worked so hard to fortify.

    Aminu shot a solid 36.9 percent from 3-point range on 4.9 attempts per game last season, both career-best marks. He was even better against the New Orleans Pelicans, knocking down 13-of-30 from beyond the arc, good for 43.3 percent shooting. Unfortunately, Alvin Gentry’s team was perfectly content allowing Aminu space to launch, focusing instead on shrinking the floor at the point of attack to marginalize Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Aminu, those aforementioned strides notwithstanding, just isn’t the type of shooter who will make defenses pay on a possession-by-possession basis for treating him like a non-threat. He’s a nurtured shooter rather than a natural one, occasionally prone to streaks of misses that make him reluctant to continue letting fly even when the numbers suggest he should.

    There’s some measure of value in that hesitance. As last season wore on, Aminu grew increasingly comfortable passing up open shots early in the clock, confident a similar opportunity or better one would materialize as Portland probed the defense. They ultimately would, for the most part, and the Blazers were better for it as a result. But Aminu’s accuracy dwindled the longer he waited. According to NBA.com/stats, he shot 41.4 percent from three in the first nine seconds of the shot clock, compared to just 35.4 percent thereafter – attempts that accounted for nearly three-fourths of his total number of tries. Just imagine if Aminu played for a team that ranked better than last in pace, let alone one whose offensive identity was firmly rooted in pushing the ball up the floor at every opportunity.

    All accounts suggest the Blazers will play faster this season, a change that should work in Aminu’s favor. Ball-handling struggles make him little more than a catch-and-shoot option in the half court. Portland fans know all too well the most likely outcome when he puts the ball on the floor more than two or three times. The improvements Aminu has made as a shooter aren’t supplemented by additional comfort elsewhere on offense. At 28, entering his ninth season, hopes of Aminu adding some versatility to his game have almost completely evaporated. He’s strictly a play finisher, not a play starter.

    That limitation would be less debilitating on a team-wide basis in a vacuum, but is hardly harmful enough to Portland to make his presence a liability altogether. Far from it. Aminu received two votes for All-Defense last season, a drastic under-representation of his play on that side of the ball. At 6-foot-9 with a wingspan just over 7-foot-3, longer than Kawhi Leonard‘s, he’s capable of guarding high-scoring wings, suped-up big men and playmaking guards. His 2.37 defensive real plus-minus ranked 28th overall, and opponents shot 57.5 percent against him at the rim, just a hair worse than they fared against Giannis Antetokounmpo.

    Aminu isn’t that type of game-changing defensive monster. His effectiveness is more muted than players of a similar physical profile, notable less for highlight-reel blocks and steals than it is long-armed contests, well-timed help and relentless activity on the defensive glass. If Terry Stotts makes good on his preseason talk of implementing more switching this season, though, Aminu’s defensive impact should reach new heights. Pairing him with a bulked-up Zach Collins in the frontcourt could be the answer to what plagued Portland in the playoffs last spring, preventing the dribble penetration and transition confusion that made offense come so easily for the Pelicans.

    Either way, Aminu’s importance to the Blazers this season will be greater than most realize. He’s flawed offensively and not a defensive panacea, but improved 3-point shooting and a newfound embrace of his role makes Aminu a quality starter for Portland, just as he would be for most any team in basketball. Let’s see if the Blazers’ new style allows him to become anything more.

Fantasy News

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    NBA teams will not be allowed to conduct in-person or live video workouts for NBA Draft prospects but will be allowed up to four hours of virtual meetings per prospect.

    Whenever the draft happens, it will be with the least amount of research in quite a while. Teams will be without tournament game tape for college prospects and without the ability to watch live workouts. Combined with a lack of consensus on who the best players are, this could lead to a wild draft with the eventual best players going much later than usual.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Adam Silver said there will be no way to know the NBA season's fate until at least May 1st.

    It's not much of a surprise to hear that Silver doesn't expect to have enough information to make a determination about the season until next month at the very least. He also mentioned that the NBA has looked a lot at games without fans.

    Source: Tim Bontemps on Twitter

  • Tyrese Maxey
    SG, College

    Tyrese Maxey has declared for the NBA draft.

    The freshman from Kentucky finished the college season with averages of 14.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.2 dimes, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks and 1.1 threes per contest. Maxey is gifted with a tremendous knack for scoring and has the looks of a lottery selection, though obviously this draft season could be a very strange one.

    Source: Malika Andrews on Twitter

  • Dennis Smith Jr.
    PG, New York Knicks

    Marc Berman of the New York Post is reporting that with new leadership in place for the Knicks, the team is likely to shop Dennis Smith Jr. this offseason.

    Knicks President Leon Rose has no attachment to Smith, and with head coach David Fizdale and assistant coach Keith Smart no longer around to justify his retention, there is little reason for the Knicks to continue relying upon DSJ's services. He struggled all season, from a back injury, to the loss of his stepmother, to an obscure oblique injury, and a concussion in February. Smith will be worth a flyer for another team to roll the dice on, but it is unlikely he gets a real chance to be the Knicks point guard of the future again. It will be difficult for Smith to become a standard league option no matter where he is playing next season. He is simply too lousy a shooter from the field and free-throw line. His turnover rate also remains an issue in 9-CAT formats.

    Source: NY Post

  • Ashton Hagans
    PG, College

    Sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans announced his intention to leave Kentucky and enter the 2020 NBA Draft.

    Hagans is projected to be a late second-round target for the draft and is unlikely to make noise as a rookie in the NBA. One has to hope he lands on a team devoid of point guard options to let Hagans emerge with much fantasy value as a rookie. He averaged 11.5 points, 6.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game while serving as the starting point guard throughout this season with the Wildcats.

    Source: UK Athletics

  • Theo Maledon
    PG, International

    French point guard Theo Maledon has completed all of the required paperwork to make himself eligible to be selected in the 2020 NBA Draft.

    Maledon is an up-and-coming prospect who will be only 18 years young on draft day. He was a contender to take home the Rising Star award based upon his play in the Euroleague this season before the action was cut short due to the coronavirus. He's been in the French system since he was 14 and is considered a pick just outside the NBA lottery on many draft boards. He was averaging 7.1 points and 2.3 assists in 17 minutes of action.

    Source: ESPN.com

  • Zach LaVine
    PG, Chicago Bulls

    Pacers GM Chad Buchanan declined to interview for the Bulls' top basketball operations position.

    Buchanan said he and his family are happy in Indianapolis and he is not interested in leaving. The Bulls are clearly moving fast with building their new front office after the announcement that GM Gar Forman and VP of Basketball Ops John Paxson are expected to move to different roles in the organization. A change in the front office and coaching staff could only be positive for fantasy purposes as the Bulls rank 29th in offensive rating this season. Hopefully a change would bring a more fantasy-friendly system with an emphasis on developing the younger talent on the roster.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    The NBA and ESPN are working together to televise a H-O-R-S-E competition with several high-profile players.

    Woj reported that the details of this competition are still being finalized, but it sounds like players will shoot in isolation, most likely in their home gyms. This would be a much needed source of entertainment for everyone who loves the NBA and, with bragging rights on the line, we would likely see some stellar performances from the NBA's best players.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Lauri Markkanen
    PF, Chicago Bulls

    According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Lauri Markkanen had been unhappy with the direction of the Bulls organization even before the league went on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Markkanen was so displeased, in fact, that he went on to state that if the situation were to remain unchanged, he'd prefer to be elsewhere. The Bulls power forward was a fantasy mess in 2019-20 and some of that could be attributed to the coach and some of it, to his injuries. Still, his statements put the team in a rough spot. considering Markkanen has been widely regarded as a core piece of their future plans. The Bulls are already shaking things up though, making moves towards freshening things up in the front office. The Markkanen-Bulls relationship is a must-watch storyline, especially given his potential in fantasy hoops.

    Source: Chicago Sun-Times.

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Speaking on ESPN on Friday, Brian Windhorst said that there has been increasing pessimism about the NBA season resuming.

    Windhorst noted that the league has begun to discuss the financial ramifications of shutting the league down, and we've seen reports about the league looking for players to take paycuts as a result of the season's uncertain future. The fact that the CBA in China was set to resume and then delayed again is an ominous sign with NBA markets nowhere near the apex of COVID-19.

    Source: ESPN