The Orlando Magic announced Al-Farouq Aminu underwent surgery as his rehab nears a close. His absence is an opportunity for the team’s forwards.
Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford said in a media teleconference Tuesday that every player for the team would be available for training camp except three. Jonathan Isaac is out while rehabbing his torn ACL. Mohamed Bamba is still limited by the after-effects of COVID-19, but he should still be available to participate in some non-contact drills.
And Al-Farouq Aminu, still recovering from a torn meniscus suffered last December. He was still having problems getting ready for training camp. He had a setback in January as he tried to return after playing in only 18 games last year that required surgery.
Al-Farouq Aminu was expected to play an important role to boost the Magic’s defense after turning in a strong defensive season in his short time last year.
The Magic will have to wait a bit longer. Aminu’s recovery has gone slowly — he did not travel with the team into the bubble in July to use the AdventHealth Practice Facility to further his rehab. And now it appears it has taken another bad turn.
The Magic announced Aminu underwent a procedure to address persistent swelling that appears to have slowed his recovery. He should be set to begin the final phase of his rehab once he is recovered. Josh Robbins of The Athletic was the first to report the procedure.
It is not yet clear how long this will keep him out. But it almost certainly means he will not be ready to start the season. Although it certainly seems possible considering the procedure was considered minor he will return at some point this season.
Aminu had a rough go before his injury. He signed a three-year, $29.2-million contract with the Magic last offseason. It was a curious move considering the Magic’s depth at forward but gave the team another versatile, veteran wing defender.
That defense paid dividends quickly. The Magic had a 100.4 defensive rating with Aminu on the floor, the most of any player that saw rotation minutes when they played.
Of course, Aminu struggled mightily offensively. He averaged a career-low 4.3 points per game and shot a 34.3-percent effective field goal percentage, oddly struggling even to score around the basket.
Magic fans did not get much of an opportunity to see Aminu play last year. The team never got a chance to fit him in.
This year, with Isaac out especially, it felt like Aminu would get the chance to step on the floor and earn his spot. Especially as a veteran player who has established himself as a starter-caliber player in the league before. With young players behind him, Aminu likely would have gotten the first crack at forward minutes behind Aaron Gordon.
Now, the pressure will turn toward other younger players on the Magic roster.
Chuma Okeke and Gary Clark will have to step up and play minutes at power forward. They will be pushed to the front perhaps quicker than anyone anticipated. There may not be any easing into the season.
Gary Clark found a home in Orlando last year and provided solid defense. But he struggled to shoot during the regular season and fell out of the rotation early on in his tenure. He stepped up big in the playoffs when injuries depleted the roster, making four 3-pointers in the Magic’s Game 1 win.
Still, his 3.6 points per game average and 35.0-percent 3-point shooting (he shot almost exclusively from beyond the arc) were not super encouraging. The Magic even without Aminu and Isaac largely kept Clark on the bench.
The real intrigue then in Al-Farouq Aminu’s absence is to see just how quickly Chuma Okeke can get up to speed to the NBA. Even after nearly two years away from the court.
Clifford said Okeke has been all cleared for practice when training camp begins. The team will still monitor him and make sure he is feeling OK as he gets back into things after his torn ACL. But Okeke is the clear prize.
In his final year at Auburn in 2019, he averaged 12.0 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game. He upped those numbers in the NCAA Tournament. Okeke showed he can be someone who spaces the floor — he shot 38.7-percent on 3-pointers his sophomore year at Auburn — and cut to the basket or run in transition.
The Magic have been excited for him since they drafted him. But it is not clear yet what they expect from him. Some of that might well have to do with how he feels and looks in the early part of training camp.
But opportunity is still there for him especially. Aminu’s absence is going to create an opportunity at power forward.
Or force the Magic to lean even more on Aaron Gordon, who has led the team in minutes per game each of the last two seasons. Gordon will carry a large burden himself without Isaac on the floor. Aminu’s absence will likely increase his role and the necessity for him to play and play well.
This is a domino that has fallen. And the first bit of adversity the Magic will face this season.