By John Denton
Feb. 6, 2014
ORLANDO – Orlando Magic standout guard Arron Afflalo will be attending the NBA All-Star Game Weekend after all.
And Magic teammate Victor Oladipo will be there in New Orleans as well, not only competing against other rising stars, but also flashing his blossoming point guard skills.
Afflalo, who is in the midst of the finest season of his NBA career, hoped that he would be picked to play in the NBA All-Star Game for the first time ever. While those hopes were dashed last week when Afflalo was left off the Eastern Conference team even though he had more efficient numbers than several other players, he received a bit of good news on Thursday when he was selected to participate in the Foot Locker 3-Point Contest during All-Star Weekend.
Afflalo is shooting 42.7 percent from the 3-point line this season, the second-best mark of his career. He has the 16th highest 3-point percentage in the NBA, but of the players in front of Afflalo (90 3-pointers) only Kyle Korver (116 3-pointers) and Jose Calderon (119 3-pointers) have made more shots from beyond the arc.
``I’m honored and happy to be taking part in All-Star Weekend,’’ said Afflalo, who was a part of a Shooting Stars title at the 2009 All-Star Game when he played for the Detroit Pistons. ``Regardless of whether it’s based just on 3-point merit or an overall individual good season, I’m thankful for the opportunity either way.’’
The Magic will be well-represented at NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans as Oladipo was also chosen to participate in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. Oladipo, Orlando’s prized No. 2 pick from last June’s NBA Draft, will also be playing in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge along with other top first- and second-year players.
``I’m just fortunate enough to be in it and it’s all a blessing,’’ Oladipo said of his involvement in his first All-Star Weekend. ``I’m just looking forward to playing with all of those guys. It’s going to be a fun experience, my family is coming and I’m definitely looking forward to it.’’
The Rising Stars Challenge will be held on Feb. 14 in New Orleans. Afflalo and Oladipo will be competing in the 3-Point Contest and the Skills Challenge on Feb. 15. The NBA’s All-Star Game will be played on Feb. 16. All of the events will be televised live by TNT.
AFFLALO’S IMPROVEMENT REWARDED
Afflalo is averaging career highs in scoring (19.9 ppg.), rebounds (4.2 rpg.) and assists (3.7 apg.). Afflalo has 24 20-point games, four 30-point efforts and a career-best 43 points in Philadelphia on Dec. 3 this season for the Magic.
What makes Afflalo’s growth even more impressive is the fact that he’s put up career numbers while being numbingly consistent and efficient. He’s refused to force shots or take bad attempts in an effort to remain at a high level of play. His field goal percentage (46.8 percent), 3-point percentage (42.7 percent) and free throw percentage (82.7 percent) not only are among the best of any shooting guard in the league, they are also significantly better than those of Joe Johnson and DerMar DeRozan, players who were picked ahead of Afflalo for the Eastern Conference All-Star team by the coaches.
Afflalo is thankful that his hard work and his success this season will be recognized during the NBA All-Star Weekend. He is just the second player in NBA history to boost his scoring average seven consecutive seasons to begin a career, and he can potentially equal Derek Harper’s mark of eight next season. The ultimate goal, he stressed, is to make the marquee event of the weekend – the NBA All-Star Game.
``I don’t know how much the Saturday events reflect your year, but the All-Star Game is usually more of a recognition for your game itself,’’ Afflalo said. ``I’m still driven and motivated to participate in that (All-Star Game) next season. But this is also a great honor and an appreciation as well. And if it’s based on my 3-point standing, that’s great. And if it’s about my overall body of work, I’m thankful for that as well.’’
Afflalo struggled from the 3-point line last season in his first year in Orlando, but he put in the work in the offseason to greatly improve his perimeter shot. He’s made three or more 3-pointers in a game 13 times this season. He gave a peek into his shooting improvement in the third game of the season when he made four of five 3-pointers in a defeat of New Orleans.
``There’s no mystery about (the improvement). I just took a lot of threes,’’ Afflalo said of his tireless work in the offseason.
Afflalo had a career night from the 3-point stripe on Nov. 13 when he made eight of 11 threes in a home win against the Milwaukee Bucks. A week later he made seven of nine tries from distance against Miami and he also poured in five 3-pointers in the career night against the Sixers in December.
``I tend to score in bunches when I do score at a high clip in games and the 3-point shot has been a big part of my game this season,’’ said Afflalo, who hasn’t been in a 3-point Shootout competition since he was in the McDonald’s High School All-American Game. ``Obviously, I like to post up and I’ve worked to get better at isolation plays over the years. But coming into this league it’s about defense and being able to knock down the 3-point shot. It’s a big weapon, so when I get those touches and get to rolling and the ball is finding me, there’s no better feeling than getting hot from beyond the arc.’’
Oladipo has been everything that the Magic had hoped for this season while spending time at both the shooting guard and point guard positions. He’s the only player on the team to play in all 51 games, starting in 31 of them. He ranks second among all NBA rookies in scoring (13.8 ppg.), steals (1.6 spg.) and minutes played (32.1). He also ranks third in the NBA in assists (4.0 apg.) and rebounds (4.4).
OLDADIPO SHOWING BALL-HANDLING SKILLS
Oladipo had expressed an interest in competing in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, but instead he was chosen for the Skills Challenge. That news comes as somewhat of a relief to Magic coach Jacque Vaughn, who said before Thursday’s practice he was worried about Oladipo suffering a muscle strain or leg injury if he competed in the dunk contest.
The Skills Challenge should test Oladipo’s growth as an emerging point guard for the Magic. An All-American shooting guard in college, the Magic have played Oladipo at point guard for long stretches to try and capitalize on his speed with the ball and his abilities to get to the rim. In the Skills Contest, the participant starts by shooting a layup. After dribbling between three obstacles, the player must throw a pass into a first net that does not touch the ground and follow it with another pass into a second net that touches the floor. Then, the player must make a 20-foot jump shot. Next, the player must throw a long pass from close to the basket into a third net. Finally, the player dribbles between a second set of three obstacles and complete the challenge with a layup or shot.
The players to complete the drills with the best times advance to the finals for a head-to-head competition. Some of the best guards in history (Jason Kidd) and in the game today (Dwyane Wade (twice), Steve Nash (twice), Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, Steph Curry, Deron Williams and Damian Lillard) have won the Skills Challenge in the past.