Why is Al-Farouq Aminu Shooting Fewer Three-pointers This Season?

Al-Farouq Aminu is shooting nearly 30% fewer three-pointers than he did last season. Is there a reason for this decrease, or is Aminu simply passing up the opportunity to fire away from deep?

Al-Farouq Aminu played arguably the best basketball of his career in 2017-2018, averaging 9.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1.8 three-pointers per game. He also netted a career-high 36.9% of his threes despite shooting more than any previous season.

Rather than riding that momentum into Portland’s present campaign, he kicked off the first 11 games of 2018-2019 shooting 30.6% on 1.6 fewer attempts from deep (3.3). In those matchups, he only played one fewer minute compared to last season – not enough to explain the dramatic drop in three-pointers.

It’s not the offensive game plan; the Blazers are shooting 4.0 more threes per contest than last year thanks to Neil Olshey’s offseason pursuit of bargain shooters. With Aminu receiving roughly the same number of touches per game as his last campaign, he must be making other decisions with the ball.

The biggest change in Aminu’s playing environment this season is head coach Terry Stotts’ decision to add Jake Layman into the starting lineup. Maurice Harkless is out indefinitely with a nagging knee injury stemming from surgery performed at the end of last season, and instead of Evan Turner being the substitute, Layman’s number was called.

Layman and Harkless have different styles of play, and how Aminu has handled his slightly-altered role could be why he’s shooting fewer threes.

From a floor-position standpoint, Layman spends significantly more time on the perimeter than Harkless. In his first two NBA seasons, 57.3% and 42.6% of Layman's total shots were from three, respectively. Harkless, across all six of his complete campaigns, peaked at 39.7% of his shot attempts being threes.

To avoid too many Blazers players standing idle around the arc waiting for a kickout, Aminu is cutting to the basket more this year. He now cuts on 8.2% of possessions compared to 5.5% last year. As a result, 47.5% of Aminu’s shots are three-pointers in 2018-2019, a 10.7% decrease from his previous campaign.

To exaggerate Aminu’s diminishing three-point attempts, Portland is running set plays that free up Layman more frequently.

The team runs a pick-and-roll on 17.9% of its possessions, generally executed by Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic. To attend to Nurkic’s inability to scan the entire court when he receives the ball on his roll to the hoop, Stotts will plant his best three-point shooter on the side Nurkic faces when he turns toward the basket. Even in the case that Lillard, and occasionally CJ McCollum, hold onto the ball, they most easily find the player in the corner they face on the drive.

Last year, that player was Aminu.

This year, Layman assumed that position and rotated Aminu around the arc to a less-focused-on spot. There, Nurkic misses Aminu – open or not – and either passes it to Layman for three (if the defender collapses) or attempts his own shot in the paint.

However, Portland’s offensive success in the early part of the season doesn’t suggest change. The team is scoring 115.8 points per game, which ranks eighth league-wide and is 10.2 points better than last year’s mark. The offense also ranks on the cusp of the top ten in three-pointers made per game, 11.7, and three-point percentage, 36.5%.

With the offense rolling, the Blazers shouldn’t focus on recovering Aminu’s past three-point attempts. Instead, his teammates must continue supplying him with open catch-and-shoot looks on the perimeter and remain confident that his shooting percentage will return to form.

Perhaps the game versus the Boston Celtics will jumpstart his season. He knocked down two late threes, including one in the final 90 seconds, to maintain Portland’s lead and secure the team’s fourth straight victory. Aminu finished the game 3/7 from three for 11 points, leading to a plus-12 rating.

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