DALLAS -- Guess who has the best net rating among the Dallas Mavericks this season by a significant margin?
No, it’s not Dirk Nowitzki, the face of the franchise for more than a decade and still a deadly offensive threat at the age of 36.
Not Tyson Chandler, the center who is the Mavs’ unquestioned heart and soul, a dominant rebounder who serves as their defensive anchor and ranks second in the league in dunks.
Not Monta Ellis, the 20-plus-point-per-game scorer whom the Mavs thought was worthy of making his first All-Star appearance.
Try Al-Farouq Aminu.
Yep, it’s the former Los Angeles Clippers lottery pick who disappointed in New Orleans after being included in the Chris Paul deal and spent nearly a month on the free-agent market this summer before the Mavs salvaged him off the scrap heap. Dallas signed Aminu for the veteran’s minimum, and what a six-figure bargain he’s become.
The fact that Dallas outscores opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions with Aminu on the floor isn’t proof that he’s the Mavs’ most valuable player, of course. It’s evidence that he’s emerging as an excellent role player, an athletic, high-energy glue guy who complements the Mavs’ offensive weapons especially well.
The 6-foot-9 Aminu has pretty much emerged as a poor man’s Matrix, providing a lot of the things Shawn Marion did for the Mavs the previous five seasons. He defends multiple positions, rebounds, runs and is all right with the fact that the Mavs will never, ever call a play for him.
“There are similarities,” coach Rick Carlisle said of the comparison between Aminu and Marion. “He’s playing a lot of different positions. He’s playing backup center, he’s playing power forward, he’s playing small forward. He guarded some of the perimeter guys. He’s doing a really solid job.
“As I’ve mentioned before, he’s a really hardworking guy that’s getting better every day and all the guys pull for him. It’s great to see him getting on a roll here and we need him. We need his rebounding, we need his defensive presence. He’s getting his hands on a lot of balls and he’s making plays on offense, too.”
Truth be told, the Mavs are much better off with Aminu backing up Nowitzki than they were with Marion sliding from small forward to power forward with the second unit last season. Dallas has a plus-17.9 net rating when Aminu is on the floor with Chandler and Parsons. The equivalent trio in last season’s rotation -- Samuel Dalembert, Vince Carter and Marion -- was outscored by a point per 100 possessions.
Granted, Chandler and Parsons are major upgrades, as they should be with salaries that add up to nearly $30 million. Aminu has been the Mavs’ best bang-for-buck player, particularly since Carlisle recently decided to rely on him on a regular basis again.
Aminu’s traditional numbers aren't exactly impressive. He’s averaging career lows in points (5.1) and minutes (15.8) and grabbing 3.7 rebounds per game, the fewest since his rookie year. Those numbers have shot up as Aminu’s role has increased over the past two weeks -- 8.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game -- but they still won’t wow anybody.
However, Aminu stands out on defense. He passes the eye test with his long arms, athleticism and activity, including some spectacular blocked shots, such as a chase-down swat of high-flying Minnesota rookie Andrew Wiggins that sent the ball into the seats.
The numbers on that end of the floor for Aminu are impressive. He’s averaging 2.3 steals and 2.0 blocks over the past seven games. His defensive rating for the season is 99.0, almost four points lower than the Mavs’ norm. In 321 minutes when he's been paired with Chandler, it’s a stingy 92.0, the best of any Dallas duo that has played at least 100 minutes together.
“One of my goals is to be tops in the league in defense,” Aminu said. “I’m just going to keep on trying to do that. The coaches and the players put me in position to succeed on defense.”
Actually, it’s multiple positions, a big part of Aminu’s value as a minimum-salary bargain for the Mavs.