Denton: Afflalo Returns After One-Game Absence

By John Denton
Dec. 21, 2013

ORLANDO – Mired in a mild offensive slump of late, the Orlando Magic turned to their most offensively powerful starting lineup on Saturday night against the high-scoring Sacramento Kings.

For the first time all season, Orlando had Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris, Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis and Nikola Vucevic healthy at the same time and in the lineup for a game.

The Magic were scheduled to use that lineup on Nov. 26 in Atlanta, but it had to be altered just before tipoff when Harris was a late scratch because of recurring ankle pain. Orlando was also poised to use that lineup on Wednesday but had to make changes when Afflalo missed the game because of a tonsils problem that affected his breathing.

With Nelson, Afflalo, Harris, Davis and Vucevic on the floor, Orlando has five players capable of putting up 20 points in a game. Going into Saturday’s game, those fivesome had combined for 19 20-point games this season – a number that undoubtedly would have been much higher if Harris had played more than five games and Davis had played more than 15 games because of injuries. Orlando came into Saturday’s home game having scored just 83 points in a win in Chicago and 82 points in a home loss to Utah. The Magic shot just 39.8 percent against the Bulls and 32.6 percent against the Jazz.

AFFLALO’S ADVICE: When any one of the Orlando Magic’s bevy of young players have questions about a game situation, they usually turn to Afflalo for answers.

In addition to having seven years of NBA experience, Afflalo also has made himself an all-star caliber player through hard work and sweat. That earns him instant credibility among teammate who are still looking to find their way in the NBA.

When second-year forward Maurice Harkless grew frustrated over his dwindling playing time, it was Afflalo who advised him about the positives of continuing to work and stay ready when his number is called. And when rookie guard Victor Oladipo struggled through the worst shooting night of his NBA career earlier in the week, Afflalo was there to try and teach him some tricks that will better help him to create space to launch his jump shots.

As for his advice to Harkless, Afflalo told the 20-year-old of how he used to be the fifth option for both the Detroit Pistons and the Denver Nuggets, but he kept working on his skills to the point that he earned more and more freedom offensively.

``I’ve had a few discussions with Mo and he’s been super receptive to trying to understand the growing process in this league,’’ Afflalo said. ``It’s tough for him because he came into a situation (last season) where he was starting right away and playing big minutes and you almost thing that’s the way of the land and it’s really not. In most situations, rookies come into situations and have to earn their way. It’s tough when you’ve been playing 30-something minutes (last season) and then you have the reigns pulled back. He’s been great and he’s continuing to learn. That’s a sign that with his tools he’s going to be really good someday.’’

As for his talks with Oladipo, Afflalo said he purposefully stayed away from the rookie after Wednesday’s one of 12 shooting night because he knows he’s already frustrated. But he said he’s tried to share some of the tips he’s picked up through the years to create space with which to get off jump shots.

``(NBA defenses) took me a while to get used to and maybe my fourth or fifth year I started the understand the dynamics and how to be more deceptive about the things that I do offensively,’’ Afflalo said. ``Obviously Victor is a lot more athletic and physically gifted than I am, so it will be even more of a process for him to learn not to rely on that (athleticism) so much. He has to learn how to pick his spots, slow the game down and be effective in different ways.’’

NIK’S IMPACT: Since coming back from an ankle injury a week ago, Vucevic’s rebounding numbers have held firm and he’s posted double-digit board work in each of the past five games. However, he’s had had some struggles offensively against teams who have tried to take away his blossoming low-post game. He scored just six points against Cleveland last week when he missed eight of 11 shots. And even though he got 18 shots on Wednesday against Utah, Vucevic missed 13 of them and scored only 14 points.

Despite some offensive slippage, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn likes how his big man is remaining aggressive in the post and continues to demand the ball. Vucevic has become a better passer out of the post this season and he’s shown more of a willingness to take the ball right at a defender. Vaughn said that even on nights when Vucevic doesn’t post big numbers, he still has a big impact on the game with his size defensively and his offensive abilities that allow the Magic to play inside-out.

``We want him to impact the game and impact winning and sometimes that doesn’t show up statistically,’’ Vaughn said. ``When we watch film this is a guy who if you ask his teammates who can you trust the most, I bet you he’d be in that top three list. That’s what you want from him. And for Nik to do that every single night for us, that’s going to be good enough.’’