New Orleans Hornets small forward Al-Farouq Aminu isn't worth much to the team going forward beyond being an adequate role player off the bench. The pending free agent doesn't have the scoring ability or consistency to warrant being paid a starter's salary this offseason.
After a lackluster first couple of months to this season, Aminu has come along since the start of the new year. He has become a force on the glass, as his 7.6 rebounds per game barely trails rookie Anthony Davis' 7.9 boards per contest for the team lead.
He has also carved his niche as a quality defender. According to 82games.com, Aminu holds opponents to an effective field-goal percentage of 50.5 percent. He also leads all Hornets in steals with an average of 1.2 thefts per game.
However, the problem with Aminu as the future everyday starting small forward is two-fold. First, beyond quality defense and aggressiveness on the boards, the former Clippers lottery pick doesn't bring much else to the table.
Offensively, Aminu is only effective within eight feet of the rim, where he's shooting 55.5 percent this season. When he shoots from between eight-16 feet, he converts 38.3 percent. He's also nailing a mere 22.7 percent of his shots from 16-24 feet while also shooting just 25 percent from three-point range (percentages courtesy of NBA.com's Advanced Stats).
He doesn't rack up a ton of assists (averaging less than two dimes per game), and he doesn't get to the free-throw line often enough. The latter part is particularly surprising for a guy who is at his best when attacking the basket.
The second obstacle is that New Orleans holds a ton of leverage. At 22-46 (as of March 20), the Hornets have the third-worst winning percentage in the league and stand to be picking high once again in this June's NBA draft.
Making matters worse for Aminu's chances, this draft is deep at small forward, from Georgetown's Otto Porter to UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad to Indiana's Victor Oladipo. Any one of that trio would be an upgrade over Aminu.
The Hornets will also enter the offseason with a good deal of cap room. New Orleans' payroll for next season will be just under $35 million (per HoopsHype), with only seven players having guaranteed contracts. Of those seven, only guard Eric Gordon (due $14.2 million) and forward Ryan Anderson ($8.3 million) will be making big money.
The team has options on small forwards Lance Thomas and Darius Miller for less than a million dollars next season. Both of them would be intriguing options as backups going forward. New Orleans could also take a look at other free agents such as Dorell Wright or Corey Maggette, if they choose not to address the position in the draft.
The odds of returning to the Big Easy aren't in Aminu's favor. Lucky for him, he still has a few more weeks to convince the team he's worth keeping around. If he were to return to the Hornets as a backup/spot starter for a reasonable price (something around four years, $20 million), he could have some value.
As a key reserve, Aminu could strengthen a subpar Hornets bench. He could provide the quality defense and rebounding that he has become known for. Also, by keeping him out of the starting lineup, his lack of scoring ability wouldn't hinder the offense as much.
In the following pair of videos, you'll see what Aminu is capable of. The first is a short clip from the Hornets' season opener against the San Antonio Spurs. With the game close late in the fourth, Aminu blocks Tony Parker's shot and then finishes on the other end with a thunderous dunk.
That is where Aminu is valuable. He can create turnovers with some solid defense, and he has the athleticism to be a factor in transition. That kind of skill set could come in handy off the bench.
This next highlight reel is from New Orleans' showdown with the Utah Jazz back on Nov. 2. The theme throughout the first 15 seconds of the clip is Aminu's effectiveness on the break. Aminu benefits when the team plays at a faster pace because it puts him in a position to finish at the rim. He's not a good enough spot-up shooter to be a factor in a half-court offense.
At the 45-second mark, you see Aminu's instincts on the glass as he puts back the Ryan Anderson miss. In a lot of ways, he is better suited to be a power forward because he's active on the boards and he likes to score in the paint.
He would finish this game with 15 points and eight rebounds. He would go on to have better rebounding performances this season, including a season-high 16 rebounds against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 6.
At 22 years old and in the midst of a career year, Al-Farouq Aminu will garner some interest on the open market. In a league that has seen players with comparable numbers such as Amir Johnson (five years, $34 million from Toronto in 2010) receive hefty contracts in free agency, there's a chance a team breaks open the bank for the former Wake Forest forward.
That team shouldn't be the New Orleans Hornets unless it is at a reasonable price and with an understanding that Aminu will not be the starter. A four-year, $20 million deal would pay him more annually than the close to $3 million he's making this season.
With cap space and a high draft spot, New Orleans doesn't have to depend on Aminu's return. He's a fine rebounder and defender, but his 7.2 points per game isn't the kind of production befitting an NBA starter.
Regardless of how these final 14 games play out, the Hornets should find their small forward of the future elsewhere while letting the market dictate the fate of their current starter.