Denton: Afflalo Displaying All-Around Growth
By John Denton
Nov. 21, 2013
ORLANDO – To illustrate the all-around growth in Arron Afflalo’s game, you need look no further than the past three Orlando Magic games – arguably the best three-night stretch of Afflalo’s career.
Last Wednesday, the veteran shooting guard burned the Milwaukee Bucks for a career-best 36 points and most of his damage came from the 3-point line where he hit a jaw-dropping eight of 11 shots. On Saturday, with the Dallas Mavericks determined to run him off the arc, Afflalo relentlessly and repeatedly attacked the rim, resulting in 25 points and 14 free throw attempts (13 of which were makes).
Last night, Afflalo bedeviled the Miami Heat defense for 30 points and seven more 3-pointers. Afflalo was so locked in during a torrid 20-point first half that the Heat switched ace defender LeBron James onto him in the third quarter. Still, Afflalo scored 10 points in the second half before exiting the lopsided game with some mild nicks and bruises.
There is a maturity and an understanding to Afflalo’s game now, and he said the defense will ultimately determine from night to night whether he’s a 3-point shooter or a driver. Thus far, both facets of his game have had dazzling results for the Magic.
``I’m at a stage right now where I just try to take the best shot available,’’ said Afflalo, who has boosted his scoring average to a career-best 22.5 points through 11 games. ``I worked hard this offseason on my three, becoming a better free throw shooter and a better post-up player.
``So really I don’t think about if my three is going because there’s no pressure for me to perform at the 3-point line every night. There are other places on the floor where I can be effective,’’ Afflalo continued. ``So if I’m hitting the three I’m going to continue to shoot it and shoot it at a high clip. There won’t be situations where I’m 0-for-10 from three because there’s more to my game. If my drive isn’t working or my post isn’t working, my 3-point shot should be working.’’
Afflalo has been a beacon of consistency and hope for a Magic team that has slumped of late and has been bedeviled by turnover woes. The seven-year veteran is enjoying a career year what him averaging career bests in scoring (22.5 ppg.), rebounding (4.7 rpg.) and assists (4.5). And Afflalo’s 3-point percentage (54.1 percent) is where he has made the biggest improvement from last season (30 percent). He ranks third in the NBA in 3-point percentage and is tied for third in the league in 3-point makes (33).
Afflalo’s 22.5 points per game ranks him 12th in the NBA. Among NBA shooting guards, only Houston’s James Harden (24.2 ppg.), Minnesota’s Kevin Martin (23.6 ppg.) and Dallas’ Monta Ellis (23.3 ppg.) are averaging more points a game. The scoring production, the hot shooting from 3-point range and the added versatility to his game have led some to wonder if Afflalo could be in line for the first All-Star Game appearance of his career. But he said on Thursday that the Magic’s improvement is more important to him than some individual nod.
``I respect the fact that it’s predicated on how your team is doing,’’ Afflalo said. ``I only gain joy from performing well when it contributes to wins. As we get better as a unit and win games, those things (such as All-Star Games) become options. But right now we have to find ways to win and I have to find ways to continue to play better.’’
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn has said that Afflalo’s improvement this season is well-deserved because of the work that he put in and the attention that he devoted to trying to become a more efficient player. Vaughn also lauded Afflalo’s ``laser focus’’ in practices, meetings and team huddles, and he hopes that many of Orlando’s young players are learning from Afflalo’s all-business approach to his job.
``What our guys can see is what his approach has been and I’ve talked about his focus of being locked in to knowing where his shots are going to come from,’’ Vaughn said. ``He’s just keeping the game very simple and a lot of times that’s a hard concept for guys to learn. We live in a society where a lot of times simplicity isn’t glamorized and it carries over to basketball. But being simple, it’s OK.’’
Magic rookie Victor Oladipo, who made the first start of his professional career on Wednesday against the Heat, said he has started studying Afflalo on game films in an attempt to pick up pointers on becoming a more efficient player. Oladipo marvels at Afflalo’s even-keeled approach and how he’s able to attack defenses whether it’s off the dribble or from afar with 3-point shooting.
``He does a great job of when we need him to be aggressive and he’s really aggressive,’’ said Oladipo, who scored 20 points on Wednesday. ``He’s shooting amazing right now and he’s really consistent. When he plays well, we feed off him. I think he’d have a great chance of winning (the 3-Point Shootout). Once he gets hot, it’s hard for him to miss.’’
Afflalo said the biggest growth in his game came over the summer when he broke down games from last season to evaluate his play. He could have been stubborn and set in his ways and returned the same player, but Afflalo vowed to make changes to become a more efficient player.
Too often last year, Afflalo found that he would force shots and put up attempts from spots where he isn’t totally comfortable. This season, he’s become dramatically better at passing out of double-team traps – hence the much higher assist numbers – and he’s gotten back to shooting the majority of his 3-pointers from the corners.
He’s made an eye-popping 11 of 17 3-point shots (64.7 percent) from the left corner and 20 of 40 3-point attempts (50 percent) from the left side of the floor. On all catch-and-shoot jumpers, he’s shooting 46.9 percent and he’s sinking an amazing 57.4 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. The NBA defines catch-and-shoot plays as any jump shot outside of 10 feet where a player possessed the ball for 2 seconds or less and took no dribbles.
Again, Afflalo said his game isn’t based so much on forcing 3-pointers as it is simply taking whatever the defense gives him. If teams sink down into the lane, as Milwaukee and Miami did, he will stroke in eight and seven 3-pointers. If they pressure him up close, as Dallas did, he’ll drive for layups and free throw attempts.
``I came off a game where I was shooting eight threes and the next (game) I took two threes. It wasn’t like I went out there thinking, `I need to take eight or 10 threes.’ I drove to the basket that game,’’ Afflalo said. ``That’s just part of being versatile. It’s allowed me to be more versatile in my game by not being dependent on just one thing."
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