As a team leader, Nuggets' Afflalo embraces challenge ahead
Triple-A is operating in 3D.
Once labeled primarily as a defensive stopper, Arron Afflalo has blossomed into a multi-dimensional offensive threat and an unassuming leader who has become the heart and soul of the Denver Nuggets.
“My role, my influence and leadership on this team is different. Each year it gets better,” Afflalo said after practice Saturday. “It’s more of an opportunity to be part of something special. I look forward to it.”
The kid out of Compton will take the floor just a few miles from his old neighborhood Sunday when the Nuggets face the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series.
The scenario is a 180-degree turnaround from a year ago when Afflalo was sidelined for the first two games of the postseason because of a hamstring strain and never found his groove in Denver’s first-round loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“It’s good to be healthy,” he said. “It was unfortunate last season, but it’s a new day.”
Afflalo will need to be 100 percent for the challenge ahead.
He will be asked to provide perimeter shooting and playmaking on the offensive end, while chasing 13-time All-Star Kobe Bryant around at the defensive end.
“If he worries about his defense first, everything will take care of itself,” Nuggets point guard Andre Miller said. “Focus on the defense and then build from there. You don’t want to worry about offense. All that will come to you as the game goes and the series goes.”
Afflalo says his defensive strategy against Bryant will be based on hustle and effort.
“He’s a great player. He’s going to make shots,” Afflalo said. “Not that I’m conceding that fact, but at the end of the day, the idea is to beat the Lakers. When they have an elite player like him and good post players, you’re not going to stop him 1-on-1. It’s going to be a team effort.”
If the second half of the season is any indication, Bryant could have his work cut out for him as well. Afflalo scored in double figures in 32 of his final 33 games and averaged 17.9 points after the All-Star break.
“Anybody who’s watched us play knows Arron has been our best player for the last five weeks,” coach George Karl said. “The challenge he has is huge. Arron has to be an offensive and defensive player in this series. I don’t know if he can average what he’s been averaging, but he’s our most consistent shooter from outside.”
After a slow start, Afflalo found his shooting stroke at the most important time of the season. With Denver fighting to make the playoffs, he averaged 18.7 points on 52.1 percent shooting in April.
“He spent the first couple weeks just getting in his groove,” Miller said. “He’s had a great season.”
And now Afflalo is focused on having a great postseason.