Denton: Raised Expectations for Afflalo

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

``I see him doing like he’s done every year – getting better. He’s done an unbelievable job of making himself a player,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``He believes in his abilities and I do, too. He’ll be a leader on this team and we’ll lean on him, for sure.’’ Afflalo will battle incumbent veteran J.J. Redick for minutes and shots at the shooting guard position. That’s somewhat ironic considering the battles the two have had the past two years when Afflalo was in Denver and Redick was in Orlando. Last April in Orlando, Afflalo made three 3-pointers and scored 22 points, while Redick countered back with 15 points and two 3-pointers. And two seasons ago in Denver, Redick hit six 3-pointers and scored 29 points, while Afflalo had 15 points, three 3-pointer and four assists against the Magic. ``I’m excited to play with him and I really think we’ll see some time on the court together,’’ Redick said of Afflalo. ``He’s always been a guy who I’ve enjoyed battling against because he plays extremely hard. Now, I get to play with him and I’m excited about that.’’ As Afflalo pointed out on Wednesday, facing competition for playing time is really nothing new to him. He’s had to prove himself every step along the way, and he thinks the daily battles with Redick will only make the two of them better. ``It’s been a constant thing for me. I got a chance to compete against Richard Hamilton (in Detroit), got a chance to compete against J.R. Smith (in Denver) and now I’ve got a chance to compete against J.J.,’’ Afflalo said. ``Having a very competitive, elite player to push you every single of practice will be beneficial for both of us.’’ Afflalo had to push himself early in his career to break out of the perception that he was merely a limited, defensive-minded player. Despite being an All-American at UCLA, he dropped to the end of the first round in the 2007 NBA Draft. He was used mostly as a reserve early in his career in Detroit and he averaged only 3.7 and 4.9 points in his first two NBA seasons. His career took off in Denver over the past three seasons, becoming one of the focal points of the offense after the Nuggets were forced to trade away Carmelo Anthony in similar fashion to what Orlando did with Howard. Last season in Denver gave a glimpse of his growth and enormous promise as he scored at least 20 points 16 times and topped 30 points twice. He was also a model of consistency, scoring in double figures in each of the final 22 games of the regular season and 33 times in a 34-game stretch at one point. ``He’s an extremely hard worker and he’s come a long way from his Detroit days,’’ said Magic injured forward Al Harrington, who played with Afflalo the past two seasons in Denver. ``From watching him mature every year, he’s getting better every year and adding something to his game. It’s a compliment to how hard he works.’’ That tireless dedication was on display this summer in Los Angeles and Orlando when he went to work on trying to build up his stamina for the upcoming season. Because he is an elite defender, Afflalo knows that he will usually be asked to guard the biggest star on the other team, while also being depended on to score on the offensive end. He vowed that if he was going to be an elite two-way player for the Magic that he would have to work like never before. ``My body was the first and foremost (focus) because I realized last year that stamina is such a big key,’’ he said. ``I feel like I’m a very skillful offensive player when I’m fresh and motivated. I’ve been at my highest when I had the most energy and when I could put forth the most effort. ``I made diet changes and really there’s no way around it, just a lot of running,’’ Afflalo continued. ``You’re always trying to find a magical formula of a bike ride, elliptical (machine) or a pill or something, but for me it was just about flat-out running. I was running up around 5 miles a day. Or there were variations with a three-mile run over 30 minutes or I would do sprints. And then you top that with on-court work, that builds me toward being an elite two-way player.’’ Afflalo knows a golden opportunity is ahead of him to establish himself as an elite NBA shooting guard. He feels the chance to play of Orlando was a part of his basketball destiny and he fully intends to make the most of it. ``The Dwight trade was a trade that had to be made and sometimes guys get moved around when that happens. But I tend to think things don’t happen just because,’’ Afflalo opined. ``I tend to think that there was some need for me here, for some sort of purpose and I’m ready to take on that challenge. ``Me as a player, you don’t get this opportunity to continue to grow too often,’’ he continued. ``This is an environment where the expectations are for me to do more and the incentive is there to do better.’’ John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555. ORLANDOMAGIC.COM FEATURES: Raised Expectations for Afflalo | First Practice Filled With Energy & Enthusiasm | Roster Breakdown | Magic Not Accepting Term 'Rebuilding' | Ten Burning Questions Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.




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