After re-watching various Portland Trail Blazers games, one thing has become glaringly obvious to me: The Blazers miss Al-Farouq Aminu. Badly.
Although I was able to stay sane for a few days without NBA basketball during this trying time, I eventually had to get my fix in, so I sat down and watched last year’s game five against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Craving for more Portland Trail Blazers action, I then watched games three and seven against the Nuggets, Brandon Roy‘s comeback game against the Mavericks, and even game six against the Sixers in 1977, when the Blazers won their first and only championship.
Although I already knew how poor Portland’s defense had been so far this year, it was truly eye-opening to see how different the flow of these games were.
Whether it was Bill Walton, Wesley Matthews, or Al-Farouq Aminu, these teams had players that played their hearts out on the defensive end and were willing to put their bodies on the line to get stops. And when they did, they made for fast break layups and easy offense.
These teams dove for loose balls, took charges, and played like they actually gave a crap. They made their opponents work for their baskets! When somebody got beat off of the dribble, others rotated over for help. It all sounds oh so simple. But this year’s team simply does not do any of it on a consistent basis.
One game everyone will appear to be locked in, causing everyone to wonder if the team has finally turned the corner. Then, the next game, the team will come out completely flat and give up 37 points to a guy like Aron Baynes. Or they’ll get blown out to the Kings at home. Every time the team takes 3 steps forward, they take 5 steps back the next game. They just can’t seem to find a way to play solid, disciplined defense on a nightly basis like they used to be able to.
But why is this? If anything, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have improved on the defensive end over the last few years. While Trevor Ariza may not be as good of a defender as Maurice Harkless, he sure isn’t far off. And while Hassan Whiteside may make some questionable decisions on defense at times, he sure isn’t worse than Enes Kanter on that end. It can’t be that Carmelo Anthony is that much worse of a defender than Al-Farouq Aminu, can it?
It can. And that’s not to point the finger at Anthony, or say that he is the problem.
It’s to say that the Blazers struggle enough on defense already with Lillard and McCollum guarding the perimeter. Anthony remains a solid scorer for the Blazers, and should 100% be kept on the team if possible. But not in this role. Not as a starter. It just isn’t feasible that you can replace your best defender and the heart and soul of your team with a guy like Carmelo Anthony and expect things to go over smoothly.
You simply can’t have CJ McCollum as the third best defender in your lineup, unless Scottie Pippen and Bill Russell are first and second. But Trevor Ariza and Hassan Whiteside? No chance. It just can’t be that way.
Now I understand that this wasn’t Neil Olshey’s plan, and that Zach Collins probably would have covered Aminu’s loss pretty well.
But matchups are about who’s out on the court competing in uniform, not who’s sitting on your bench in street clothes, and being able to put Al-Farouq Aminu out on the court every night for the past four years is a luxury that the Blazers dearly miss.
Whether or not the Blazers will try to get him back anytime soon isn’t something that I know anything about at this point. But there is one thing that I do know:
The Blazers need to find another Al-Farouq Aminu.