Patience is key for Afflalo in season's early stages
After the Denver Nuggets completed their third game in as many nights and fifth in six days, coach George Karl encouraged his players to stay home the following day.
Get away from basketball to mentally and physically recharge.
So how did Arron Afflalo respond to the suggestion? By 8 o’clock the next morning, he was on the Pepsi Center practice court running sprints and shooting jump shots.
After contract negotiations delayed his arrival in training camp, Afflalo is trying to make up for lost time. The Nuggets shooting guard has yet to find his rhythm or long-range stroke through seven games, averaging 10.5 points and connecting on just 4-of-18 three-point attempts.
“Some guys played in the summertime, whether it was overseas or charity games or competitive basketball,” Afflalo said. “With my free-agency situation, I was fearful of doing that type of stuff. Then, I missed 10 out of 13 days of training camp.
“Trying to guard guys who are ready to play and still have the right mechanics on my shot and have the playmaking ability, it’s difficult. But I’m confident I’ll get there. I’ve got plenty of time.”
Though the Nuggets are banking on Afflalo to become an elite shooting guard, they have the luxury of being patient while he rounds himself into form. Reserve guard Rudy Fernandez has been steady off the bench, and Karl has been comfortable playing point guards Ty Lawson and Andre Miller together in the backcourt.
“I think there’s a little conflict between getting Arron extended minutes and giving Rudy confidence, also.” Karl said. “The exact rhythm of the rotation is still to be determined. When I play Ty and Andre together, it’s probably been our best lineup.”
As someone known as the ultimate team player, Afflalo is enjoying Denver’s early season success (5-2), but he also wants to be a major contributor to that success after signing a five-year deal reported to be worth more than $40 million.
In the season’s first two weeks, his competitive nature has created an internal dilemma as Afflalo tries to work himself back into shape without hurting the team.
“It’s definitely been difficult just because I had expectations for myself and I have high expectations for this team, and I want to be deeply involved in that,” he said. “At the same time, out of respect for my teammates, I had to take a little step backwards, a mental step backwards, and take the proper time to get my game where I need to be.
“At the end of the day, I’ve got a five-year deal, not a seven-game deal. I’m just trying to be more patient with myself and my expectations and just do what’s best for the team.”
Afflalo, who averaged a career-high 12.6 points in 33.7 minutes per game last season, believes the foundation for success lies in his conditioning. He spent countless hours last summer on a treadmill, and he has been working out even on Denver’s off days.
“I never really honestly felt that I got tired last season,” he said. “I play 20 minutes (now) and sometimes I feel like I’m spent. I think it’s just a matter of going game after game and gaining confidence with my game and picking up the conditioning along the way.”
Because so much of Afflalo’s game is predicated on knowledge and sound fundamentals, Karl believes repetition is required to help him return to his form of the past two seasons. He told Afflalo as much this week.
“The athletic player has to get in shape and play a little bit, and it comes back pretty quick,” Karl said. “But a player of detail, it takes more precision to get the feel and comfort zone. A half a slide can be the difference between good position and bad positioning.
“That detail is what Arron is tremendous at. He doesn’t make mistakes in areas of detail, which makes us a better defensive team and a better execution team. I don’t think he’s gotten that special detail action down yet.”
Karl has not been shy about zinging Afflalo and Denver’s other struggling three-point shooters. After the Nuggets went 4-for-19 from long range against Milwaukee on Monday, the coach joked that he was going to ask his players for money to buy a new rim.
Afflalo takes the teasing in stride.
“Luckily, I’m halfway mentally tough because he’ll ride you,” he said. “Coach is great. He has our best interests at heart. I’m just looking forward to continuing to progress as a player. Maybe I’ll be peaking at the right time, which in a shortened season would be right around the playoffs.”
Based on their recent investment, the Nuggets certainly believe Afflalo is worth the wait.