The Curious Case of Alade Aminu

Like Benjamin Button growing younger in time, Alade Aminu’s 2010 has been a story of illogical regression. Over the span of two months, Aminu went from being one of the breakout stars of the D-League Showcase and a 2010 D-League All-Star selection to coming off the bench in six of Erie’s nine games in February, a month when the team went 1-8. Aminu’s perplexing fall from grace in Erie ended earlier this week when the talented rookie forward was traded to the Bakersfield Jam in exchange for guard Blake Ahearn.

I don’t want to shortchange Ahearn in this ordeal because he is a former D-League All-Star himself. Ahearn is an additional perimeter weapon for the BayHawks as well as insurance in the backcourt with an ailing Cedric Jackson. Check out my post on Blog Talk BayHawk for more on what Ahearn brings to the team. But today I want to focus on Aminu.

The early-season signs were positive for Aminu. After coming off the bench for Erie’s first two games of the season in November, Aminu’s numbers rose in December as one might expect for a rookie learning the pro game. In January, Aminu really flourished. It started early in the month with his 30-point, 23-rebound performance at the D-League Showcase in a win over Reno and continued throughout the month. He started 12 games in January and averaged 16.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game on his way to being named a D-League All-Star.

Consistency was an issue for Aminu early in the season. He’d follow up a double-double with a barely-noticeable night. In January, he seemed to be playing not only better but doing so more regularly until the very end of the month.

If you take a look at Aminu’s game logs, you’ll see that things began to take a turn for the worse January 29. Starting in that game against Maine, Aminu’s production dropped significantly and so did his playing time. In his final month as a BayHawk, Aminu averaged 7.9 points and 4.3 rebounds in just 19 minutes per game. For comparison, his January numbers again were 16.9 and 9.8 in 33.4.

If you’re looking to rationalize the demotion in terms of playing time, you could point out that his per-48 minute production was down in February, meaning you were getting less efficient scoring and rebounding from him hence he wasn’t worth playing. However, I would counter that the gap in the numbers is not nearly significant enough. In my opinion, it’s more likely that his production would’ve stayed on par with January (if not improved in February) had he continued to get the starter’s minutes and opportunities to assert himself the way he had the previous month.

It’s a chicken-or-the-egg proposition. Which came first? Aminu’s drop in production or the drop-off in his playing time? It probably depends on who you ask, but from my vantage point, I believe Aminu was misused and underutilized by the BayHawks. It may not be concrete evidence, but the fact that the team sputtered to a 1-8 record during the month when he played the least resonates in my mind.

I’ve yet to hear anything beyond basketball as to why Aminu’s role on the team took such a sudden swoon after he had seemingly begun to harness the potential that made him an All-Star selection and call-up candidate in the first place.

By all accounts, Bakersfield made the initial contact inquiring about acquiring Aminu. As reported at GoErie.com by Duane Rankin, BayHawks coach John Treloar said, “They had a need, I guess you could say, for a four-man. Obviously, I listened and they asked what it would take. I said, ‘He’s an All-Star, so I want an All-Star off your team. The only one you’ve got is Blake Ahearn, and that’s who I want.’”

Erie and Bakersfield currently have the fourth-to-last and second-to-last place records in the D-League, so the trade is not going to have playoff implications on either end. Nonetheless both teams have shown they’re willing to shake things up with their roster moves throughout the season.

How the latest one plays out is yet to be determined. Both players are expected to debut with their new teams Friday night. For Aminu, that means a Jam homestand against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. In two games against RGV this season, Aminu had (not surprisingly) very mixed results. He had a dismal 4-11 shooting night in a 110-88 beatdown at the hands of the Vipers on January 22 only to bounce back the next night with 31 points in 45 minutes in a game Erie lost 100-94.

Like the 166 minutes of Benjamin Button, the tale of Alade Aminu failed to keep the interest of some within the BayHawks’ organization. Ahearn is a good player, but the bottom line is they traded away a player that they traded for on draft day some four short months ago. Somewhere along the line, someone decided he was expendable, not the best fit to help the team win games.

Yet, while I grant that Aminu’s 2009-10 campaign is among the most curious in the D-League, I find it hard to believe that his story is moving along a la Benjamin’s. I don’t think Aminu is moving backwards. I do not believe that he’s regressing as a player. Circumstances (see: lack of opportunity) prevented him from the natural growth curve he was following to start the season.

That’s why I think this change of scenery?assuming it comes with the increased minutes and clearly defined role he deserves?is just what Aminu needs to realize his potential. And someday down the road … you know, when he gets older and more experienced, that potential may very well earn him a spot on an NBA roster.

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