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Since coming to Orlando in the Dwight Howard trade this summer, Arron Afflalo has been touted as one of the central pieces Rob Hennigan is planning to rebuild around. An elite shooter and solid defender, he seems to be a perfect fit for a young team still in search of an identity.
But so far, the results have been inconsistent. Afflalo has had two outstanding shooting performances, but he also helped shoot the Magic out of a seemingly winnable game against the Knicks on Tuesday.
Afflalo’s increased role in Orlando has led to some changes in his shot selection, a lot of which aren’t exactly positive trends. Through seven games with the Magic, he’s averaging 14.1 field goal attempts per game, easily the highest mark of his career. This isn’t surprising at all, given that he’s a focal point of the offense of a young Magic team, rather than one of many cogs in a deep, talented playoff-worthy rotation like he was in Denver.
First, the good: Afflalo’s effectiveness around the basket is right in line with where it’s been over the past two seasons. He’s shooting 70 percent at the rim according to Hoopdata, which is an excellent mark.
A little more troubling is Afflalo’s increased reliance on his midrange jumper. He’s amassed 3.7 field goal attempts per game from 16-23 feet and shooting just 36 percent on these attempts.
Last season, Afflalo shot 40 percent on 2.3 attempts per game from 16-23 feet and in 2010-11, he shot 39 percent on 1.6 attempts per game. Neither of these marks are exactly stellar, either, but they were mitigated by the fact that they weren’t shot nearly as frequently.
The season is still young and things may well even out soon. But in the early going, it seems clear that the spike in Afflalo’s midrange attempts, coupled with the drop in efficiency from that range (which wasn’t great in the first place), has played a large role in his inconsistent start to the year. His True Shooting percentage of 52.2 percent this season is well below his career True Shooting percentage of 57.6 percent.
Afflalo’s greatest skill on offense has always been his excellent three-point shooting. With the exception of his rookie season in Detroit, he’s shot at or around 40 percent every year of his career from beyond the arc. His three-point percentage this season has dropped to 36 percent. You’d think this was just a byproduct of his increased role meaning more attempts, but he’s attempting practically the same three-pointers per 36 minutes than he has over the last three seasons.
This drop in efficiency is pretty easily explained. NBA.com breaks up a player’s three-point attempts into three categories: corner threes, threes from the wings, and threes at the top of the key.
Throughout his career, Afflalo’s strength as a long-range shooter has been from the corners. Last season, he shot 44.5 percent on corner threes (49-for-110) and 37 percent from the wings (33-for-89). In 2010-11, he shot 44.9 percent on corner threes (66-for-147) and 38.6 percent from the wings (34-for-88). In both seasons, his corner three attempts outnumbered his attempts from the wings, which makes sense. He was sticking with what worked, as he should have been.
This year, the difference in those splits is pretty dramatic. So far, 19 of Afflalo’s 25 three-point attempts have come above the break, and he’s connected on a mere five of those, hitting them at an awful 26.3 percent clip. Meanwhile, he’s nailed four of the six corner threes he’s attempted. The resulting 66.6 percent mark wouldn’t hold up over the course of an entire season, of course, but his high success rate on corner threes compared to his lower accuracy above the break is consistent with the trends from his previous seasons.
Part of the problem may be the dropoff in point-guard play between his Nuggets teams and the Magic. He’s had Ty Lawson blossoming into a star his entire time with the Nuggets. Denver also featured two steady, consistent veteran floor generals, first Chauncey Billups and then Andre Miller. With Jameer Nelson out, Afflalo has not had the luxury of playing with a reliable distributor in the backcourt. E’Twaun Moore has played surprisingly well so far for the Magic, but he’s still a clear downgrade.
However, while this certainly could explain some of these trends, it doesn’t explain all of them. It makes no sense for Afflalo to shy so consistently away from the types of shots he’s mastered.
Since Afflalo is handling so much more of the scoring load for the Magic than he did in Denver, it would make sense for him to play to his strengths, which thus far he hasn’t been doing. There’s no reason a career 40.4 percent three-point shooter should be taking so many of his shots from midrange, where he isn’t as effective. His almost total abandonment of the corner three, by far his most consistent weapon as a shooter, is hurting his effectiveness as well.
The sample sizes are still small but after seven games, these trends are starting to emerge. They begin to explain why Afflalo’s overall numbers this season are suffering. Turning some of those midrange jumpers into attempts at the rim or from the corners behind the three-point line would do wonders for Orlando’s offense, which doesn’t have a lot of other reliable weapons.