• 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

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
    PF, Milwaukee Bucks

    Giannis Antetokounmpo could not will his team to the win against Team LeBron on Sunday in what was the most competitive All-Star Game we have seen in quite some time.

    Antetokounmpo scored 25 points with 11 boards on 12-of-21 shooting. He had two clutch blocks on LeBron James to keep his team alive, but ultimately Team LeBron was able to overpower Team Giannis. Antetokounmpo's value is being dragged down by free-throw shooting and turnovers, but he remains a top-30 asset nonetheless.

  • Anthony Davis
    PF-C, Los Angeles Lakers

    Anthony Davis secured the win for Team LeBron on Sunday with a game-winning free throw.

    Davis scored 19 points with nine boards on 9-of-16 shooting. Kyle Lowry pulled him to the ground to send him to the line with a chance to win the game and AD delivered. Davis remains the No. 1 player in 9-cat formats and should have no issue maintaining that spot.

  • Kawhi Leonard
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    Kawhi Leonard won the first Kobe Bryant All-Star Game MVP Award with 30 points as Team LeBron beat Team Giannis 157-155 on Sunday.

    Leonard came out the gate hot as he knocked down eight triples prior to the extremely competitive fourth quarter. He turned it up with some clutch steals down the stretch and helped Team LeBron secure the win. Leonard is a lock for top-10 value as we shift our focus to the second half of the season.

  • Derrick Jones Jr.
    SF, Miami Heat

    Derrick Jones Jr. won the Dunk Contest on Saturday in an epic showdown with Aaron Gordon.

    Jones and Gordon extended the Dunk Contest into overtime and treated us to some of the best dunks in recent memory. Jones put on a spectacular performance with one 360, between-the-legs dunk that was reminiscent of Vince Carter. Gordon dunked over Tacko Fall in his final dunk and put up dunks worthy of a trophy himself. Jones earned the nickname of Airplane Mode on Saturday and is an option at the end of your bench in 14-team leagues.

  • Buddy Hield
    SG, Sacramento Kings

    Buddy Hield beat Devin Booker and Davis Bertans with 27 points in the final round of the 3-Point Contest on Saturday.

    Hield had to hit the final shot to beat Booker by one point and take home the 2020 3-Point Contest trophy. Hield is third in made 3-pointers this season with 207. He has been on a roll lately and is a top-30 player over the past month while averaging 21.1 points and 4.5 threes per game. Hield should have a top-50 finish to the season.

  • Bam Adebayo
    C, Miami Heat

    Bam Adebayo beat Domantas Sabonis in the final round of the Skills Challenge to take home the victory on Saturday.

    Adebayo beat Spencer Dinwiddie, Pascal Siakam and Domantas Sabonis on his way to winning the 2020 Skills Challenge. Adebayo was able to showcase his talents on Saturday and has been a top-40 player in 9-cat leagues this season. He will have early-round value moving forward.

  • Evan Turner
    SG, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Evan Turner is set to work out for the Clippers, per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

    Turner is working on a buyout with the Wolves and Minnesota never had any intention of holding ET back from other work. He's only appeared in 19 games all season and would be at the end of LA's rotation, so there's minimal fantasy impact if Turner finds his way to the Clips.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter

  • Miles Bridges
    SF, Charlotte Hornets

    Miles Bridges took home the MVP Award of Team USA's 151-131 win over Team World in the Rising Stars game on Friday night, scoring 20 points, grabbing five boards, dishing out five assists and chipping in three steals.

    He hit some big shots, including a couple of three of three pointers (3-of-7 3PT). The MVP winner was not immediately obvious after the game and Bridges was the beneficiary of a wide open field. He is clinging to value in standard 12-team leagues and has been a little better of late, averaging 20 points and seven rebounds over the past two weeks. If you have an open roster spot, Bridges offers consistently average production if you need a space-filler.

  • Collin Sexton
    PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Collin Sexton played 20 minutes Friday in the Rising Stars game in Chicago, putting up 21 points, five rebounds and three assists.

    Sexton was not pleased about being left off the original roster for Team USA. He got an opportunity due to Tyler Herro's injury and had a good showing Friday evening. He has been very consistent thus far, holding top-125 value on the season and ranks in the top-75 over the past two months. Keep running him out there.

  • Brandon Clarke
    PF, Memphis Grizzlies

    Brandon Clarke was in the starting lineup for Team World in the Rising Stars game Friday night and put up 22 points on 11-of-15 FG and added eight rebounds.

    Clarke has the best shooting percentage out of all NBA rookies this season, sitting at a cool 62.3% from the floor. He didn't let up Friday, only missing four of his 15 shots. Clarke has sneakily almost cracked the top-75 in standard leagues this season and needs to be owned across the board. The Grizzlies are surprising everybody and currently hold a spot in the playoffs, so Clarke should maintain his value.