Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
About two days after the NBA season started, an old friend called me and asked how Arron Afflalo was going to do this season. He had just picked him up in his fantasy draft. I simply laughed in response.
But look who’s laughing now.
Nine games into the season and the Orlando Magic appear to be Afflalo’s team, at least on offense. The seventh-year player is posting numbers like he’s back in Denver, and playing with renewed confidence. His production so far this season has been stellar, and that’s a breath of fresh air for Orlando fans.
Points per game is a rudimentary gauge on how good of a scorer is. Regardless, Afflalo is currently averaging 21.3 points per game, which ranks him 13th overall in the entire league.
Much of that success is due to his 3-point shooting. You really can’t ignore the fact that he’s lighting it up from the outside, shooting 52 percent on 5.6 attempts per game. A vast majority of Afflalo’s 3-point attempts are coming while he’s spotting up and he’s converting them at an extremely high clip.
That torrid shooting display from deep is largely the reason why he’s sporting a .613 True Shooting percentage.
Moving off the ball
Spot-up shooting isn’t a new concept for Afflalo, not by a long shot. It’s his meal ticket in this league. The difference this year is that he’s seeing higher-quality looks, especially from deep.
Part of this is because of his teammates’ ability to create space, but the other element is his willingness to move off the ball more than he has in previous years. Instead of camping out beyond the arc, he’s cutting at times, rotating well, and timing his arrival at the 3-point line better.
All-Star caliber efficiency
Last season, Afflalo posted an below-average 13.0 PER, and for the first time since his rookie season, he had a True Shooting percentage below the league-average. So far this season, Afflalo has shown that he can be more efficient with a heavier workload offensively. Actually, he’s shown that in certain categories, he’s getting back to being the uber-efficient player that he was in Denver.
Currently, Afflalo is rocking a 20.9 PER, the highest of his career. Much of that has to do with how efficient he has been while catching-and-shooting and pulling up off the dribble.
It’s not usage!
Quite honestly, my first thought about Afflalo’s production was that his usage rate would be through the roof. Not so. Granted, it’s higher than it ever was in Denver, but his 23.6 usage rate is only a percentage point higher than it was all of last season. The bottom line, and this seems over-simplified, is that Afflalo is simply making a lot of the shots that he wasn’t making last season.
Send Jameer a thank-you card
This shouldn’t seem like rocket science, because it’s not. I took a look at each of Afflalo’s successful spot-up attempts this season from beyond the 3-point line. With very few exceptions, those triples started with a Jameer Nelson drive. At that point, either Nelson kicked it out directly to Afflalo, or he found Nikola Vucevic, who then skipped the ball to Afflalo.
The offense absolutely has to start with Jameer going toward the basket for Afflalo to be the most effective as a scorer. In most cases, Jameer wasn’t even looking to score. He just made his way deep into the paint, drew defenders to him, and then found a way to get the ball to an eager Afflalo.
The only real exceptions to that rule are the moments when Afflalo drives the ball himself, then hands it off to a post player (normally Vucevic), and quickly gets back out to the 3-point line to receive a kick-out pass. By in large, though, Jameer is creating a lot of good looks for Afflalo.
And Afflalo has delivered. He’s generating 21.9 percent of his offense in spot-ups and averaging 1.41 points per possession (4th-best in the NBA), per Synergy.
What’s the takeaway?
It can’t be Jameer’s job to get Afflalo open, and thus far it really hasn’t been. Jameer is simply delivering the ball at the right spots.
Afflalo needs to stay active off the ball, aggressive when he has the ball, and continue to be a weapon as a spot-up shooter. The shots will come, especially as Orlando continues to spread the floor and attack. If he can trust that fact and maintain quality efficiency while driving the basketball, this could be an All-Star season for Afflalo.