I read an article recently, which was written at the beginning of this NBA season, which said that although signing Arron Afflalo for $16 million over two years was a reasonably good deal for a starting shooting guard, he was a only a regressing role player that wasn’t really worth signing at such a price for a team that was supposedly tanking.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Afflalo and he’s usually one of the first players I trade for on any NBA 2K game because he is the model of consistency. However, it’s this exact perception of the Compton, CA native that has hampered his growth throughout his NBA career. He was drafted by the Pistons in 2007 after 3 stellar years as the starlet on a UCLA Bruins team that made the Final Four of the NCAA tournament in Afflalo’s sophomore year. Of course, most would project the star player on a prominent college team to be a perennial Allstar but this wasn’t to be the case for Afflalo. He didn’t fade into obscurity and he didn’t demand headlines. He drifted into the unrecognizably dangerous middleground of consistency, not mediocrity, a neutral zone where no one had a problem with his play but his playing style and personality was much too neutral and consistent for it to be noticed by General Managers or the media. So for a player that has been, like I said, the model of consistency in a league filled with fundamental-less athletic players (See the Philadelphia 76ers) and statistical anomalies (See Kyle Korver, Golden State Warriors), his almost flawless play has been the single biggest flaw in terms of his expansion from ‘solid’ to ‘star’. Then again, this isn’t a knock on Afflalo but the system in which the league operates where players largely only stand out for Sportscenter highlights or groundbreaking advanced statistics.
“If you truly have a love and passion for the game, then you should work at every aspect of it, not just the part that gives you [attention], that being scoring.” – Afflalo, after winning the Pac-10 Player Of The Year award in his final season at UCLA where he averaged 17 points a game but was more dominant on the defensive end.
Afflalo has been a member of 5 NBA teams, with high points at the lowly Orlando Magic two years ago, to low points at the high-flying Portland Trail Blazers last year.
He was captain of the Denver Nuggets, which wouldn’t come as a surprise to many who watch him play regularly, as his relentless defense accompanied by his orthodox yet mesmerizing offensive medley of fadeaways, spot ups and aggressive drives to the rim make him the perfect on-court leader by example. Apart from his stint in Orlando, where he was dealt in the three-team trade for Dwight Howard, Afflalo has mostly had a role as not exactly second fiddle to the other stars on teams but as the glue-guy that is always there in the corner or on the wing, ready and waiting to get you a bucket when *insert superstar here* doesn’t have the hot hand. He has a career average of 11.5 points per game, which doesn’t jump off the page when you read it however his 45% field goal percentage along with a 38% 3-point percentage are quite impressive for a 2 guard that has been a starter for the majority of teams he has played on (Although he did win 6th man of the year with the Detroit Pistons team I controlled in NBA 2K11). The thing is, there are many NBA players at the moment that are reasonably average that I could be writing about, but there are few in the same predicament as Afflalo. He showed us in Orlando that he can lead a team (18 points a game (Career high)) and is currently showing us that he’s done playing the theoretical bass in the NBA with the New York Knicks, something I, as a Knicks fan am very pleased about.
Just like Afflalo himself, the Knicks are at a very unique stage where they aren’t sure if they want to go to the Playoffs or they want to develop players, yet the situation of not knowing what they’re doing isn’t that alien to the Big Apple’s franchise, just ask Isiah Thomas. There have been encouraging signs all around the Knicks’ current season (Minus 99% of their fourth quarter performances) such as Kristaps Porzingis, Carmelo Anthony being a leader, Lance Thomas and the emergence of a somewhat solid second unit. One of the most impressive revelations this season has been Arron Afflalo himself, who missed the beginning of the season with a hamstring injury. This in a way was a blessing in disguise for him as it finally made people actually keep him in mind and he hasn’t disappointed thus far, shooting his second highest career field goal percentage 47.5% and also having a respectable scoring average of 13.8 a game. Even though in typical Afflalo fashion these might not seem mind-numbingly brilliant, his role on the team is significantly different to those he has played in the past. He is no longer utilised as a spot up shooter like he was somewhat in Portland, or a glue-guy like in Denver, with Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony and Ty Lawson. Currently, he is playing a Melo-esque role of creating his own offense yet in a very Afflalo way. We’ll never see him put the ball over his head and jab step until his defender becomes physically ill, but instead it seems like he has accepted the role of taking the offense into his own hands when things become stagnant, making himself freely available to put the ball through the hoop, which relieves heaps of pressure that has been placed on Anthony for years. He isn’t scoring more unassisted baskets as Anthony, but he is showing a noticeable aggressiveness on the offensive end which has been reflected in 22, 29 and 31 point outbursts against the Sixers, Timberwolves and Rockets respectively (Two of which he shot over 60% and 54% in the other). He shoots better percentages in every area of the court than Carmelo Anthony and although he averages 8 points fewer than Melo, he has a 19.5% usage rate compared to Anthony’s 30%, which is a reflection on Afflalo’s clinical scoring and staggering efficiency. Unlike the Jared Dudley’s and DeMarre Carroll’s of this world he isn’t a simple spot up shooter as he can be regularly seen posting up and shooting fadeaways that seem like they always go in as well as drawing fouls on rampant forays to the bucket.
(This is a short documentary from 2012 on where Afflalo came from, his daily routine and all else you need to know about the Knicks number 4)
Afflalo has to be one of the most under appreciated NBA players of the last ten years, and although it’s a stretch to say that he could’ve been a key cog in a Championship team, he has definitely proven that as the face of a franchise he has the skills and talent to be a surefire Allstar. That being said, he is only 30 years old, and with his playing style and determined mindset (He rarely, if ever dunks) he could raise his averages and impact on NBA teams for a few years to come. Afflalo’s journey to get to the NBA is as interesting as it is reflective on his playing style and the path his career has taken. Paved by hard work and determination from the beginning and epitomized by a State Championship win at Centennial High School in Los Angeles (The same High School as Kendrick Lamar who wrote the song below about him), when no one expected him to, which led to a scholarship to UCLA and then to the NBA, where he has shown nothing but progression and, of course, consistency throughout.
Here’s hoping in the New Year, the new look Afflalo keeps making the nets in Madison Square Garden shudder whenever he gets the ball near the low post.