• 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

  • Dwight Howard
    C, Memphis Grizzlies

    The Grizzlies are allowing the Lakers to speak with Dwight Howard.

    The news came out yesterday that the Lakers would seek permission and the fact that they were granted it suggests that Howard will not be on the Grizzlies for long. The aftermath of DeMarcus Cousins tearing his ACL left them in need of another center if they want to remain true to playing Anthony Davis exclusively at power forward. Joakim Noah is the other option on the Lakers' radar and has been a facilitator and role player in the past.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Moritz Wagner
    PF, Washington Wizards

    Moritz Wagner has been cut from Germany's FIBA World Cup team.

    The move seems somewhat surprising given Wagner's youth and notoriety, but Germany still has four NBA players on their roster despite cutting Wagner. The Wizards have plenty of depth in the frontcourt and Wagner is probably lower on the totem poll when it comes to receiving minutes.

    Source: Dario Skerletic of Sportando

  • Jonah Bolden
    PF, Philadelphia Sixers

    Jonah Bolden has opted to withdraw from Team Australia in the FIBA World Cup.

    Bolden becomes the fifth NBA player to skip out on playing for Australia in the World Cup, a trend that seems to be prevalent for several country's national teams. Bodlen could be looking at an increased role as a backup center for Philly's thin bench this upcoming season. He is not expected to be a relevant fantasy option though.

    Source: Fox Sports Australia

  • Jeremy Lin
    PG, Toronto Raptors

    Jeremy Lin is in advanced discussions with the Bejing Ducks according to a report from Chinese journalist Sonx Xiang.

    Lin previosuly turned down a deal to play for CSKA Moscow, and has also discussed his openness to playing in China. The nine year guard still hopes to resmue his NBA career at some point, but a move to China may be the best career option for him at this juncture.

    Source: Sportando

  • Dwight Howard
    C, Memphis Grizzlies

    The Lakers will soon ask Memphis permission to speak with Dwight Howard according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

    Shams goes on to mention that there is mutual interest here and that Joakim Noah could be another veteran of interest for LA. The realistic options for free agents at the five really don't go much further than these two for the Lakers. Stay tuned for more updates on this developing story.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Dwight Howard
    C, Memphis Grizzlies

    In the wake of the DeMarcus Cousins injury, one name the Lakers are considering is Dwight Howard, according to Rohan Nadkarni of Sports Illustrated.

    Howard is still a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, but it is widely assumed that he will be waived before the season starts. A reunion in LA would certainly be pretty surprising for the Lakers after Howard famously did not resign with them after a miserable season playing with Kobe Bryant. Still, the Lakers need depth at the five and there really aren't any options on the market who compare to Howard's level of productivty, even at this stage of his career. Other center options the Lakers could pursue include Joakim Noah, Kenneth Faried and Zaza Pachulia.

    Source: Rohan Nadkarni on Twitter

  • Malachi Richardson
    SG, International

    Malachi Richardson has signed with Hapoel Holon in Israel.

    Richardson played 22 games for the Raptors last season and averaged 1.4 points. At 23 years old, he still has time to develop and possibly return to the NBA in the future.

    Source: Sportando

  • Rudy Gobert
    C, Utah Jazz

    Rudy Gobert scored 14 points along with nine rebounds, two assists and a block in France's 86-72 win vs. Brazil in the World Cup exhibition games.

    Gobert led the team in scoring across 22 minutes of playing time. With the new additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic on the Jazz, Gobert may take a slight hit in scoring however you can still expect excellent field goal percentage, rebounds and blocks. Evan Fournier chipped in 13 points with five rebounds, three assists and a steal for France. Brazil's Bruno Cabloclo scored nine points, seven rebounds and a steal.

    Source: FIBA

  • Dennis Schroder
    PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Dennis Schroder scored 19 points to lead Germany to a 83-62 win vs. Hungary as the teams prepare for the Wold Cup.

    Schroder filled the box score tonight by adding three rebounds, seven assists, one steal, one block and four treys. He will come off the bench again next season behind Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Anyone who drafts the often-injured Chris Paul may want to handcuff him with Schroder. Fellow countryman Daniel Theis scored 11 points with six rebounds, two assists and one steal.

    Source: FIBA

  • Tyler Dorsey
    SG, International

    Tyler Dorsey has signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv B.C. of Israel.

    Dorsey played 21 games for the Grizzlies last year after being acquired midseason from the Hawks via trade. He played well over that span with 9.8 points in 21.3 minutes but will take his talents overseas where, "He'll have a chance to showcase what great things he can do," according to his new head coach. Maccabi has signed several former NBA players this offseason as Dorsey will be joining Omri Casspi, Nate Wolters, Quincy Acy and Tarik Black.

    Source: Macabi Tel Aviv on Twitter