Al Farouq Aminu, All Grown Up? Nigeria Stuns Lithuania in Olympic Qualifying

Al-Farouq Aminu, a skilled forward from Wake Forest, was the 8th pick in the 2010 NBA draft. After one season, he was dealt to the Hornets in the Chris Paul trade, and didn’t contribute much on one of the worst teams in the NBA.

This season, Aminu will probably get his chance. Between a healthy Eric Gordon (the Hornets should match Phoenix’s offer sheet), and acclaimed rookies Austin Rivers and Anthony Davis, Aminu should quietly be able to recede into a specialist role that fits him best: Transition/garbage points at the offensive end and a hound on the defensive end.

Aminu, who turns 22 in September, could be a breakout NBA player this winter. Did we see a hint of it when Aminu scored 16 points and collected nine rebounds in a major upset of Lithuania in an Olympic qualifying game? Nigeria is still no lock to play in the Olympics – next up: Greece, which beat Nigeria recently – but between the Hornets’ moves and his international experience, perhaps this is the summer that Aminu proves he’s ready to be an NBA starter. New Orleans traded away Trevor Ariza, and Aminu is the only small forward currently on the roster.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m bullish on the Hornets. I’ll predict strong seasons from Ayon, Aminu and Xavier Henry (the latter off the bench) and 35 wins, which should be good for 11th in the West. With the right lottery pick in 2013 – I’d focus on defense (perhaps Mason Plumlee?), since Gordon and Rivers will be taking plenty of shots – I think they’ll be in the discussion for the playoffs in 2013-2014.

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