Portland Trail Blazers: 2016-17 was a season of many adjustments for Al-Farouq Aminu

Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu struggled in 2016-17 due to a position change and multiple injuries. What does it mean for his future that there are now six players capable of playing power forward currently on the roster?

It’s probably easy for an NBA veteran to think they’ve experienced everything by a certain point in their career. However, Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu endured several new experiences in 2016-17, his seventh season in the league. Those experiences statistically set him back, but Aminu will have to learn from what transpired. The Blazer roster has a logjam in the frontcourt, which threatens his long-term prospects with the team.

The first change Aminu dealt with was a full-time move to power forward. Aminu has always been big enough to play power forward, standing at 6’9″ and 240 pounds. However, according to Basketball-Reference, he spent 76 percent of his floor-time during his first six seasons in the NBA at small forward.

In 2016-17, mostly due to the acquisition of Evan Turner, Aminu didn’t play any minutes at small forward. Instead, he played power forward 95 percent of the time and five percent as a small-ball center.

Aminu’s role in the rotation also shifted this season. He began 2016-17 as the starting power forward, starting 23 of the first 26 games he played. However, he only started two of the last 35 games he played. Noah Vonleh replaced him in the starting five.

Aminu also endured his first major injuries of his career. He first suffered a left calf strain in November that sidelined him for almost a month.  That was followed by a back contusion in mid-December that put him out for a week-and-a-half. Lastly, he went down with a left knee sprain in mid-February. The sprain occurred just before All-Star Weekend, so he only missed the two games that bookend the break.

In the end, Aminu played 61 games in 2016-17, 74.4 percent of the regular season. In his first six years, he played in 96.4 percent of all possible regular season games.

When asked to assess his year during his exit interview in April, Aminu brought up his injuries as something he had to adjust to. However, when healthy, he felt he did well in utilizing his skill set to help Portland reach the playoffs.

“This season was different for me because it was the first time I’ve been injured. So that brings a whole set of things within itself. I’m thankful that I was able to come back healthy, first and foremost. And I think that I continue to just show that my versatility – to be able to help this team out. Because at moments we lost our 5-man, at moments we lost our 4-man, it seemed like we didn’t have everything that we needed, and we could still grind wins out, and we could still be in games and different things like that”.

Aminu finished the season with 8.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. That was a 1.5 point per game decrease but a 1.3 rebound per game increase from 2015-16. He shot a career-low 39.3 percent from the field, but averaged a career-high 29.1 minutes per game.

Aminu’s best stretch of the season happened over six games, lasting from Portland’s March 28 win over the Denver Nuggets through their April 6 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. He averaged 14.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Aminu also shot 46.7 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from three in that span.

His best game during that stretch, and the season, was in an April 3 win at the Timberwolves. Aminu came away with 20 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three blocks.

Aminu’s offensive struggles were smoothed out by his defensive contributions. He had a 108 defensive rating in 2016-17. That ties a career-worst that he also reached in 2010-11 and 2013-14. However, this year’s 108 comes in the context of being a member of the seventh-worst defense in the NBA. His 108 was third-best on the Blazers, behind only Jusuf Nurkic and Mason Plumlee.

Now, Al-Farouq Aminu faces a pivotal summer. 2016-17 was a rough season not just for him, but the rest of the Trail Blazers’ frontcourt. Ed Davis and Festus Ezeli dealt with injuries while Meyers Leonard struggled for much of the year. Noah Vonleh showed slight growth as his role grew and Nurkic’s brilliance only lasted 20 games before he was essentially out for the year.

The front office looked to bolster their crop of bigs by drafting Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan in the 2017 NBA Draft. The Blazers now possess six players that can play power forward regularly: Davis, Leonard, Vonleh, Collins, Swanigan and Aminu.

What that means for Aminu is up in the air. However, he stated in his exit interview — before the draft — that he’ll simply look to improve across the board.

Yeah, all of it, man. I think I’d never [not] – even if I’m 50 years old – want to work on parts of my game, you know what I mean? It’s just loving to play the game of basketball”.

With a year at the 4 under his belt, will he remain at that position, or move back to small forward? Will he improve enough to maintain a role in Portland?

Those questions will hopefully be answered this summer, but the struggles Al-Farouq Aminu went through in 2016-17 are definitely experiences he can learn from.

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