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Arron Afflalo is an All-Star. Admittedly, a large percentage of his All-Star credentials is due to the watered-down nature of the Eastern Conference this year. It’s a well-worn, beaten down, deceased horse of a topic at this point.
It’s also inextricably linked to the candidacy of anyone not named LeBron James. Competition across the board in the East is as far removed from fierce as possible, and either as a symptom or the cause of the devastatingly poor play, potential All-Stars are few and far between.
Yet regardless of the performances of his peers, Arron Afflalo is an All-Star. Unfortunately for him, and for Magic fans, not many people know it. While “Spell Check” continues to light up opponents on a nightly basis, most eyes are turned elsewhere, soaking in what they believe to be a more entertaining product involving teams west of the Mississippi River.
And Afflalo did himself no favors with his play last season, which, to put it kindly, was something of a disappointment. Touted as one of the prized acquisitions in the Dwight Howard trade, he failed to play up to expectations, turning in something of a wasted year. The fanfare that surrounded Afflalo upon his arrival in Orlando quickly evaporated, leaving a player alone to find his way back to the spotlight.
To say that Afflalo has had a better season in 2013-14 is to drastically undersell the improvements he’s made and the level at which he’s played.
The biggest — and most obvious — change has been in his shooting. Where last year Afflalo’s True Shooting percentage sank to unacceptable levels (.527 percent, to be precise), this season has seen a marked difference in his marksmanship. In a league increasingly obsessed with the 3-pointer, Afflalo is attempting 5.2 triples per game (5.0 per 36 minutes) and drilling them at a .415 percent clip. Couple that with his near 50 percent shooting on shots inside the arc and Afflalo’s True Shooting percentage has jumped nearly 7 percentage points this year to .590 percent.
In other words, Afflalo’s efficiency has returned to his Denver levels. He’s found his stroke once again, and he’s not at all shy about showing it to the world.
Perhaps more than his shooting, the most important step forward Afflalo has taken is his abilities as a playmaker. He’s assisting his teammates at the highest rate of his entire career, and he’s doing so while decreasing his turnovers compared to last season. He’s also rebounding at a career-best rate, and he continues to draw a fair number of fouls and knock down a tidy .873 percent of the subsequent free throws.
In essence, Afflalo has become the shot creator many hoped he would be when he left Denver. And he’s maintaining the efficiency that he established with the Nuggets while increasing his minutes per game and usage rate — no small feat, as Rudy Gay would gladly attest.
Yes, Afflalo is a much improved player this year. But in a vacuum, his performance is nearly meaningless as it relates to his All-Star candidacy. Its only when compared to his competitors that Afflalo’s play truly stands out.
While far from a perfect stat, Basketball-Reference’s Win Shares gives a nice overall view of a player’s aggregate performance and makes for a handy tool in comparing one player’s season to another. By that standard, Afflalo is a stone cold lock to be an All-Star. He’s sixth in the league — both Western and Eastern Conference — in Win Shares for a guard and easily the best guard in his conference.
To further support his argument, Afflalo’s 19.6 PER is second among East guards, trailing only Dwyane Wade in that rubric (22.4). When you compare the two players, you’ll notice that Afflalo’s stats across the board are neck-and-neck with Wade’s.
The numbers are clearly on his side, but the All-Star Game is, of course, about much more than numbers. Therein lies the problem with the fact that not enough people are watching Afflalo. His game is well-suited for an All-Star exhibition. He’s liquid dynamite, able to seep into any crack or crevice in a device and explode in a spectacular shower of 3-pointers, wicked cuts to the basket and acrobatic layups. And he’s more than willing to share the love, able to throw pinpoint lobs for devastating alley-oops, as he and Victor Oladipo demonstrated against the Charlotte Bobcats.
The question then becomes whether he has a realistic chance at a selection. The initial return on fan voting bears out the fact that most are unaware of Afflalo’s credentials, as he didn’t even crack the top 10 in the Eastern Conference backcourt voting. For context, Derrick Rose is third in said category, and Rajon Rondo is sixth. Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving will almost certainly be the two backcourt players selected by the fans to start the All-Star Game.
That leaves Afflalo at the mercy of the coaches. The 30 coaches are responsible for selecting the All-Star reserves. Each coach votes for seven players within their conference: two guards, three frontcourt players, and two wild cards from any position. A coach may not vote for players on his own team.
John Wall seems an all-but-certain selection by the coaches as one of the guard reserves, which leaves potentially four chances for Afflalo to be selected. Personally, I like those odds. He’s certainly played well enough to earn that second guard reserve selection. And fortunately for Afflalo, coaches have probably seen much more of him than fans, which makes his inclusion as an All-Star a much more likely scenario.
Whether or not Afflalo will be named an All-Star remains to be seen, though my belief is that he’ll be making his way to New Orleans. But even without the formalities, Afflalo has certainly played at an All-Star level this year. Recognition of such will be up to the coaches. I trust that they’ll do the right thing.