INDIANAPOLIS – As Al-Farouq Aminu dressed quietly, and away from the cameras and microphones that surrounded his more high-profile teammates Friday, his name was being attached to several adjectives around the Trail Blazers locker room.
Maurice Harkless called him a “monster.”
Coach Terry Stotts called Aminu an “unsung” player.
And CJ McCollum called him the “glue” that keeps the Blazers together.
Pick any of those descriptions, and Aminu has been that and more in the first two games of this Blazers season.
On Friday, he was a steady force in helping the Blazers dispatch Indiana 114-96, amassing 16 points and 16 rebounds while playing his usual steady defense. That came on the heels of a five-point, 12-rebound performance in the season-opening win at Phoenix.
“If we get him to play like that all season,’’ McCollum mused, “we will be special.’’
Aminu has long been one of the more under-appreciated players on the Blazers, in part because he is a quiet sort, and in part because often his contributions are not adequately measured by statistics.
He is one of, if not the best, defenders on the Blazers. He is able to switch liberally from guards to forwards and he offers probably the best help defense on the team.
So far this season, the 6-foot-9 Aminu has also been an elite rebounder. His 14 rebound average through two games is sixth best in the NBA, but he is the only rebounder in the top 10 who is shorter than 6-foot-10.
So how does a 6-foot-9 player dominate the boards?
According to Aminu, much of it mental.
“You have to think every shot is going to be off,’’ he said. “Then go after everything.’’
Another aspect, Aminu says, is to go into a game with a defensive approach, something he has adopted since he signed a four-year, $30 million free agent deal in 2015.
“If I go into a game thinking I’m going to score 100 points, then that’s all that’s on my mind, ‘’ Aminu said. “But if I go in thinking I’m going to hold my guy to zero points, then that’s what is on my mind. You have to challenge yourself defensively; that’s half the battle.’’
And it was a battle on Friday that Aminu won more often than not. His 16 rebounds were the most he has recorded in his two-plus seasons as a Blazer and four off his career high.
“It seemed like every time I looked up, he was grabbing a rebound,’’ Damian Lillard said.
His final stat line didn’t go unnoticed around the locker room.
“That was crazy. Crazy,’’ Evan Turner said. “He is balling out. His energy is at a high level and we need it. Most of those are defensive rebounds, and if we don’t get those, we are in big trouble. You give any NBA team more than one possession and it will be along night.’’
It’s not like Aminu’s value is a revelation. Last season, when he missed 19 games with calf and back injuries, the Blazers’ defense nose-dived to the worst in the league. While much of the Blazers’ late-season turnaround was credited to the arrival of Jusuf Nurkic, a nuanced reason was also Aminu rounding back into shape to shore up the defense.
“He’s the glue. He is awesome,’’ McCollum said. “He does a lot of the dirty work and doesn’t get a lot of credit. Gets a lot of rebounds. Plays defense. Switches … makes threes for us. He’s big.’’
He will have to be big Saturday night for the Blazers in Milwaukee. Aminu figures to be one of the Blazers’ wings who will be charged with slowing down the Bucks’ do-it-all star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is leading the NBA in scoring at 35.5 points a game to go along with 10.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists.
Today's Blazers' links:
The Talkin' Ball panel discusses Bill Walton and Clyde Drexler being dropped from the Top 50 list.
Casey Holdahl of the Trail Blazers' writes about the post game of Evan Turner.
The Indianapolis Star writes about Caleb Swanigan being a steal in the draft.
Bleacher Report takes a look at whether Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best in the game.