NEW ORLEANS — Defend, rebound, run. Seems simple enough.
That’s what New Orleans Hornets coach Monty Williams wanted from Al-Farouq Aminu. Citing the potential of Aminu’s athleticism and his lack of intensity, Williams said he wasn’t getting enough of what he asked from him.
Aminu seemed unsure about what Williams wanted as opposed to what came naturally. So Williams gave him time to think about it.
For the Hornets’ game against Memphis on Dec. 7, Aminu was benched. He went from a starter who often played heavy minutes to no playing time at all.
“It wasn’t a punishment. We weren’t getting production from that spot, so you try to find somebody else who can,” Williams said. “I just felt like he had to sit for a while to do some soul-searching and understand what I wanted from him at that position.”
Aminu sat that game, played limited minutes in a handful of subsequent games, then was held out of four more between Dec. 19 and 26. He returned for a four-minute cameo against Toronto, was held out the next game at Charlotte, then played five minutes against Atlanta.
On Jan. 2 against Houston, having observed Aminu in practices and in those short appearances, Williams played him 30 minutes, 50 seconds. Although Aminu had just eight points and eight rebounds, Williams saw what he wanted to see. The defense was there, the energy, the effort.
More important was the mindset transformation.
He returned to the starting lineup the next game at Dallas. In the seven games heading into Saturday night’s matchup with Golden State, Aminu averaged 7.9 points and 10.6 rebounds.
“I just focused on (rebounding) more,” he said. “I just wanted to keep bringing that energy level, and good things happen after that.
“At first, I didn’t understand everything I needed to do. I don’t want to get carried away because I’ve had some good games, but I’ve taken some steps in the right direction. I just think you’re learning the things you need to do to become a pro.”
The Hornets entered Saturday night 6-1 with Aminu back as a starter. He may have had his most impressive game of the season in Wednesday night’s win at Boston.
Playing against Celtics great Paul Pierce, Aminu had nine rebounds and a season-high 18 points — mostly the result of drives to the basket, which is what the coaching staff had been imploring him to do more. He made 12 of 13 free throws, by far a season high, and Pierce fouled out in the fourth quarter.
“I thought he did great job against Paul Pierce the other night,” Williams said. “Paul had an off night, but ‘Chief’ had a lot to do with that.”
During Saturday morning’s shootaround, Williams was asked whether he was concerned about the recent performances of power forward Ryan Anderson.
In the five games preceding Saturday’s, including a 3-of-11 performance against Boston, Anderson shot 31.5 percent. Anderson, who leads the NBA in 3-pointers made, shot 7-of-30 on 3s in that span. He averages 16.6 points but was at 9.2 in those games.
Williams said he didn’t think anything of it.
“I think teams are trying to take him out (of his role),” he said. “That’s a respect thing, in my opinion. He’s getting bigs on him; he’s got point guards on him; he’s got wings on him. We have to learn to how to play off of him. Guys are starting to realize that his guy isn’t leaving him. He’s a great guy to go screen. ...
“Shooting for (Anderson), it’s there; he’s just missed some shots.”
Guard Brian Roberts participated in Saturday’s shootaround and is looking better after spraining his left ankle against Boston, Williams said.
Still, after opting not to sign Donald Sloan to another 10-day contract, General Manager Dell Demps was looking at his options.
Williams said the Hornets aren’t dissatisfied with backups Roberts and rookie Austin Williams. But they are mainly scorers, and there’s a need for more of a true point guard as a backup to help keep starter Greivis Vasquez fresh.
“We have a couple of guys playing in that position that probably were going to be third guards,” Williams said. “I’m not displeased with it, but there have been stretches where I’ve gotten inconsistent play at that position, and I’ve had to play Greivis more minutes in the second half than I would like.”
On Friday, Williams and Hornets players took time after practice to sign more than 200 basketballs as well as jerseys and other memorabilia.
Hornets staffers said the team does that two or three times a season because it’s more convenient to sign a bunch of items instead of bits and pieces throughout the season.
“They will be used for all sorts of community-relations needs, benefits, a lot of organizations,” spokesman Harold Kaufman said. “They’ll be used in fundraising efforts, some sponsorships. A lot of our sponsors will receive some of those. We just try to pick a convenient day where we’re not in a rush for travel or obviously we wouldn’t do it on a game day.”
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