Al-Farouq Aminu seeks comfort zone

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Clippers forward Al-Farouq Aminu knows he's a rookie.

Accordingly, he knows that as the eighth overall pick in last June's NBA draft, big things are expected of him within the Clippers franchise and in the NBA as a whole.

He also says he knows he's not quite meeting those expectations just yet -- although it does seem as if he has a logical reason for why that's happening, and it doesn't always start with him, he says.

"It's just about trying to find a rhythm out there on the court sometimes," Aminu said before Saturday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. "Sometimes I'm the first person in, sometimes I don't go in until the second half, so it's hard to find a rhythm -- especially when you've never in your life come off the bench.

"All these new things, man. I'm just trying to be professional about it, but it's still hard on you as a player."

But Aminu, 20, had one of his better games of the 2010-11 season Saturday, coming off the bench to provide a spark in the Clippers' 98-92 win over the Thunder at Staples Center. In 20 minutes, he had six points -- including two rim-rattling dunks -- and six rebounds, with no turnovers to boot. It was the first time since February he played as many minutes without turning the ball over.

"I thought Farouq -- this was probably one of his more active games, in terms of rebounding and being aggressive," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said afterward. "He's young and this is great experience for him, but he helped and contributed in a positive way, and that's always great."

Aminu's game didn't start off too great. Upon entering at the start of the second quarter, his first shot was a 3-point attempt that barely hit the rim, and his third defensive possession saw Thunder guard Daequan Cook make a 3-pointer in his face.

Less than 30 seconds later, Aminu was out of the game.

But when he returned with 6:18 to go in the half, he was a different player. His second offensive possession saw him grab two offensive rebounds. A minute later, he snatched a short Russell Westbrook miss off the rim and took it coast-to-coast for a slam.

He played the rest of the half and had another effective 10-minute stretch in the second half with a steal, four points and two more offensive boards.

"I just figure that I'm going to play my game and not worry about certain things," Aminu said afterward. "Sometimes the ball just bounces towards you, but I was just playing my game."

It seems some in the Clippers' organization want him to be more of a traditional 3-point shooter, but Aminu seems himself less as a shooter and more as a driver and rebounder.

"Learning takes effort," a displeased Del Negro said earlier this week when asked why Aminu and fellow rookie Eric Bledsoe's minutes have trended down, not up, in recent weeks, as is customary for non-contenders. "You have to be open to learning. Learning is hard work and we gotta be willing to do that.

"They're young, they have a lot of development to do. They're kids and this is a man's league. No one's going to feel sorry for you."

Hitting the rookie wall, a term often used late in the season with first-year players, isn't the issue -- not when Clippers forward Blake Griffin, also a rookie, has played more than twice as many total minutes as Aminu, and is still going strong with five games left.

"I'm not clocking 40 minutes a game or anything like that," Aminu said. "My minutes aren't huge, so fatigue isn't really much of a factor. I'm only 20 years old."

So the issue is just when he's getting onto the court and becoming comfortable?

"That, and just trying to figure yourself out -- both in the NBA and on this team," Aminu said before the game. "Everything's new to you, and when everything's new to you, sometimes you're just like the deer in the headlights.

"You know what I mean? Sometimes you look silly out there."

He didn't look silly Saturday. He looked confident.

"I think Al-Farouq played real well," Bledsoe said. "I was trying to look for him when I was in the game, keep getting him going because he can get it going whenever and score a little bit.

"His performance was great."

Both Aminu and Bledsoe have had great games at various points this season, but neither has really put together a string of them.

"They are going up and down," guard Eric Gordon said. "At this point in the year, they should just let it go and start playing. They should have a good, thinking mentality of how to play.

"But they're doing just fine. We expect them to get better each year."

And so it seems Aminu is still on the path to success with the Clippers. He's on pace to finish with averages under six points and 3.5 rebounds a game, but there's plenty of growth to be made on his end in the future.

"I think he's comfortable, but he just needs to be ready when it's his time to come in the game," said Gordon, who said Saturday he could easily see Aminu in the Clippers' starting five of the future. "The guy is talented enough to do whatever he wants whenever he wants on the court when he's got the toughness about him.

"It's all about what he wants to bring in."