As last season ended, Al-Farouq Aminu was near the top of the list of players who lacked job security with New Orleans’ NBA team.
Converted from power forward, he had just finished his first season starting at small forward. Although he often played hard and made impressive, athletic plays, his team’s primary need for the upcoming season seemed to be an upgrade at small forward. And when the season ended, he was left without a contract.
But during an interesting offseason, Aminu re-signed. And a week into training camp, it looks like he’ll be the Pelicans’ starting small forward.
Aminu said he’s not surprised to still be playing in New Orleans, that he thought he did some good things — such as averaging 7.2 rebounds, second on the team.
“I had gotten the feeling that they appreciated what I was able to do last year and that they wanted to bring me back,” he said. “It was nice that they brought me back. It made me feel that I wasn’t crazy or anything like that — that I was right about the fact we both appreciated each other.”
While in limbo, Aminu talked to other teams. But coach Monty Williams had let all of the team’s free agents know that if they wanted to work on improving under his coaching staff, they were welcome. Aminu took him up on the offer, beginning workouts in June in hopes of improving his main weakness: shooting.
“I’ve improved my shooting a lot, working with coach Jamelle McMillan and (lead assistant Randy) Ayers,” Aminu said. “I feel pretty good about my shot right now.”
From what he has seen in pickup games and practice, Williams said there has been noticeable improvement, but he’s reserving judgment until he sees it in games. If anything, Aminu has stayed in a range that may allow him to be successful.
“He’s making more 15- to 18-footers and staying away from the 3-point line, which is a big deal for him,” Williams said. “I think he’s more confident.”
Improved shot or not, Aminu is slated for a role similar to the one he had last season — defending, rebounding and running hard on the fast break for a few easy baskets. And with more shooters on his roster, Williams said Aminu’s defense will be particularly important. It’s the main reason he likely will be the starter at small forward, barring a trade.
“He’s certainly got the length, and you need defense at that position starting off a game,” Williams said.
Aminu said he has been working on improving his defense as hard as he has worked on his jumper — just in a different way.
“I’ve been watching a lot of film,” he said. “You watch what you’ve done on defense to see what you need to improve on, and you work on your body as well. So it’s mental and physical. Coach Ayers breaks down some of the things he wants me to work on, but you pretty much know what you do as a player.”
Last season, he was charged with guarding some of the best athletes in the league. Aminu said he was up to it — for the most part.
“Sometimes, (guarding small forwards) looks worse than it really is,” he said. “When you get out there and start playing, and you forget about all the stats and all that, then you start to build on it. You learn things about yourself and your opponents, and you become better.”
Center Greg Stiemsma said Aminu has been almost omnipresent on defense in pickup games and practice.
“He’s so long and active,” Stiemsma said. “You always have to be aware of him anywhere on the floor. He gets his hands on a lot of balls. He tips a lot of balls out; he’ll steal some rebounds from guys that you don’t always see coming. He’s one of those guys you love to have on your team and you hate to play against because he just comes out of nowhere and he uses his length really well.”
Aminu said his goal this season is to become one of the NBA’s better defenders, and it appears his role on defense may expande.
“Night in and night out, I’m probably going to guard the best player at (shooting guard or small forward),” he said. “I’ve been making (defense) an emphasis all summer.”
Guard Brian Roberts didn’t participate in Thursday morning’s practice after spraining an ankle in Wednesday morning’s session. Williams said there’s some swelling, and it’s unknown whether he’ll play in Saturday’s exhibition opener at Houston. ... The Pelicans announced their broadcast schedule. Fox Sports New Orleans will broadcast 75 regular-season games, and WWL-FM (105.3) will air 80 regular-season games. WODT-AM (1280) will air all 82 regular-season games in Spanish.