Al-Farouq Aminu has been around the proverbial block. With the trade deadline deal that brought him and Nikola Vučević to the Bulls, the 30-year-old forward will suit up for his sixth NBA team in 11 seasons. He’s seen 40 games of postseason action and contributed to winning clubs in Dallas and Portland.
That means he brings veteran presence to a Bulls team that began the season with a starting lineup that featured four players age 23 or younger. It also means these words, spoken while detailing his first impressions of the Bulls organization, carry weight.
“It looks like they're trying to do everything to a higher level,” Aminu said on a Zoom call with reporters after Saturday morning shootaround in San Antonio, Aminu's first action with the team after clearing his physical. “The facilities are at a high-level, the way they went through practices and things like that were very sharp and very organized... It's giving me some confidence just off the bat, that certain things are in place. It feels good to be here and know those things are being done.”
The acclimation process of Aminu, Vučević and the rest of the Bulls’ deadline acquisitions will be by fire. The Bulls play nine of their next 10 games on the road. Six of those contests are against teams currently at or above .500, a kryptonite of this group.
The hope is a slew of veteran additions (don’t forget Daniel Theis) will help steel their resolve.
“It just helps the young players fine-tune,” Aminu said of his role as a veteran. “Everybody don’t want the voice always coming from the head coach or the coaches or whatever the case might be. At the end of the day, we the guys out there. And we can explain what to younger players exactly needs to be done and how it needs to be done.
“It's little pointers throughout the year that we can give that make a world of a difference. I know when I was a younger guy, especially my time that I spent in Dallas (with the Mavericks), being around those guys, I soaked up a lot. It's just good to have a couple of older statesmen, I think it helps out.”
Aminu’s on-court capabilities can’t be discounted either. Standing 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot wingspan, he’s always been a sturdy perimeter defender that can toggle between either forward spot. He has never averaged less than one steal per 36 minutes in his career, and crashes the glass at an impressive level for his position.
Despite injuries wracking his stint in Orlando -- limiting him to 35 games since the start of the 2019-20 season -- Aminu appeared in 16 consecutive contests for the Magic (starting 14) before the trade, and just four nights ago notched 17 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in a loss to the Denver Nuggets. If he can rekindle the average 3-point accuracy he displayed in his Trail Blazers days (35.3 percent on 4.2 attempts per game over three seasons), it would be gravy, though he shot just 16-for-67 (23.8 percent) from behind the arc with Orlando.
“He’s a very experienced player, a very good defensive player also. Somebody that plays hard,” Vučević said of Aminu. “He can really help a lot. He just has that grit, and that’s something that every team needs.”
Zach LaVine called Aminu a “tough guy” that “does a lot of different things well” while reflecting on competing against him in the past. Answering a question about the additions of Aminu, Theis, Troy Brown Jr. and Javonte Green, Artūras Karnišovas cited talent, toughness and competitiveness as traits of the group that excite him.
Head coach Billy Donovan even recruited Aminu to Florida during the latter’s high school days. Though Aminu eventually chose Wake Forest -- he says only because of Donovan’s dalliance with the Magic’s head coaching position in 2007 -- Donovan still had Aminu’s old contact information in his cell phone from over a decade ago.
The hope is that he will be a snug fit for a team in need of experience and defense on the perimeter and in the frontcourt.
“Being versatile playing defense, being a guy that just can fit in really smoothly,” Aminu said of what he brings to the Bulls. “I would imagine that people want me to do what I've always done."