Denton: Afflalo Makes Anticipated Return to Denver

By John Denton
January 8, 2013

DENVER – Arron Afflalo had just wrapped up an otherwise stellar game what with him scoring 24 points, getting to the free throw line six times, grabbing five rebounds and handing out three assists.

It was the latest strong performance in a nine-game stretch that has been the most prolific of Afflalo’s six-year NBA career.

Still, Afflalo wore a scowl on his face, his shoulders slumped and his eyes were hollow as if he had just hung an O-fer in the stats column. Despite Afflalo’s brilliance over the last two weeks, the Magic’s misery continued and he was beating himself up over a turnover he committed in the fourth quarter and another miscue in overtime of a 125-119 loss to Portland on Monday.

Afflalo, back in Denver on Tuesday where he will face a Nuggets team on Tuesday that traded him to the Magic back in August, is attempting to make the leap from solid player to an elite-level one this season. He is holding himself to exceptionally high standards, meaning he expects to play on the same level of the likes of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson and James Harden when going head-to-head with those star players.

He doesn’t take losing or not playing well in crunch time well, and he’s never going to apologize for that.

``It’s almost a childish thing for me, and I’ve (taken losing hard) since I was a kid,’’ Afflalo said on Tuesday. ``They say in the NBA that you play so many games that you play so many games that you have to forget and move on, but at the same time I don’t let things roll off that easily. It takes about a day for me (to get over a loss) and I look forward to the next game. I do wear it, and I just try to make the corrections that will carry over to the next night.’’

That kind of accountability, that kind of white-hot intensity and that kind of commitment to becoming better are things that have made the Magic (12-22) fall in love with Afflalo this season. His persona is that of a gracious, mild-mannered person, but he has quickly evolved into a leader for Orlando because of the consistency of his focus and his actions on the court.

Those are some of the reasons that Magic VP/Assistant General Manager Scott Perry, the man who pushed for Afflalo to be drafted into the NBA six years ago, wanted the fiery shooting guard in Orlando. And Afflalo has become the kind of player that head coach Jacque Vaughn wants on the Magic roster going forward for years to come.

``He’s an extreme competitor and he’s been great for our locker room. His approach every day has been great for us and to have young guys see his approach, he cares and that’s extremely important in this league,’’ Vaughn said. ``And Arron cares every single day – not every other week or just when things are going well. So that approach has been great for our locker room.’’

On Wednesday when the Magic face the Nuggets (20-16) they will be trying to snap their nine-game losing streak. It’s the franchise’s longest skid since the 2003-04 season when it lost 19 straight early in the year.

It will also be a homecoming of sorts for Afflalo, who spent three seasons with the Nuggets before he was traded to Orlando in August as part of the four-team, 12-player blockbuster deal.

``There was a lot of emotion given to my time here, so when I come in here I can feel some of the emotions of the time spent here and the ups and downs and the short journey I had here,’’ Afflalo said. ``Not really (any bitterness over getting traded). My perspective on it all is opportunity and gratefulness to play the game no matter what NBA team is trading for me. And it’s a slight or disrespect to the Magic if I’m disappointed. No, I’m happy and I’m ready to grow as a player and lead this Magic team to some things that might have been unforeseen in the start.’’

As it turns out, with Andrew Bynum (Sixers) and Al Harrington (Magic) yet to play this season because of injuries, and Dwight Howard (Lakers) on the shelf with a shoulder injury, Afflalo has been the most consistently productive player involved in the trade. Compared to Denver’s Andre Iguodala – the player he was basically exchanged for – Afflalo is averaging more points (17.6 to 14.0) and is shooting better from the floor (45.9 percent to 44.8 percent), 3-point range (34.6 percent to 33.1 percent) and free throw line (85.8 percent to 62.7 percent).

Whereas some might have resented getting traded, Afflalo instead looked at the move to Orlando as an opportunity to further grow his game. His scoring average improved all three years he was at UCLA and jumped in each of his five NBA seasons in Detroit and Denver. This season has produced another increase to the 17.6 points per game, moving him into the conversation of elite shooting guards in the NBA.

Vaughn said that he thinks Afflalo will continue to improve because of his work ethic, his blossoming talent level and the attention to detail that he pours into every aspect of his game.

``Arron would admit that he’s thinking about basketball a lot – even on an off day. So he’s always looking to see how we can improve as a team and how he can be better,’’ Vaughn said. ``I wouldn’t bet against him (to become an elite player) because he’s a guy who has willed himself into the position that he’s in now. He’s made himself into the player that he is now and I would never bet against him.’’

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Afflalo has just gone through the best nine-game stretch of his career while averaging 22 points a game. That bettered the 20.4 points a game that he averaged from March 19 to April 6 last season while with the Nuggets. During this stretch with the Magic, he’s had six 20-point games highlighted by 29 (against New York), 28 (against Miami) and 26 twice (against Toronto and Washington).

All of those game, however, were losses for an injury-ravaged Magic team that has had to play without Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis (shoulder sprain), E’Twaun Moore (elbow sprain) and Gustavo Ayon (thigh contusion). The Magic hope to get those players back by the end of this four-game road trip or next week, and Afflalo feels there is still plenty of time for the team to make another run at snagging a playoff spot. The team’s success, combined with his own growth, will ultimately lead to him being considered an elite player, he said.

``(Being elite) is a personal goal, but I also understand that that respect is going to come through wins and losses,’’ he said. ``It’s one thing to score points and stop guys, but for me it has to transfer to wins so that people can truly see the impact of it. So I’ll continue to try to be consistent with my growth and my game, but I’m hungry to get a `W’ because it makes everything else that much more impactful.’’

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