Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
Before the season, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Arron Afflalo’s long-term impact on the Magic would be through the assets he’d net in a trade. He was one of the players constantly brought up in the “perfect role player for a good team” conversation.
He could spread the floor for the shooting-starved Grizzlies, or replace Thabo Sefalosha in the starting lineup and provide an offensive upgrade for the Thunder. On the right team, the thinking among NBA experts was that Afflalo could do serious damage as a secondary scorer.
These conversations were entirely fair, given everything Afflalo had shown in the past. He had a well-defined role in his three seasons with Denver. He played around 30 minutes a game, shot 3s at a 40 percent clip, used less than 20 percent of his team’s possessions, and generally played solid wing defense. At the time, a player of his caliber being the centerpiece of the Dwight Howard mega-deal was rather laughable.
It became even more laughable last season, as Afflalo struggled to keep his head above water as one of the Magic’s primary scoring options in his first season with the team. His True Shooting percentage fell below the league average, his turnover rate skyrocketed, and his free throw rate fell off a cliff. He was overwhelmed trying to replace Howard as the first option on offense. Affalo’s role was pushed over the limit.
Just when it seemed like he was incapable of shouldering a heavy load offensively, Afflalo’s 2013-14 season has flipped that assumption on its head. His 24.0 usage rate is a career-high and, miraculously, his .589 True Shooting percentage is the second-highest mark of his career. His 18.3 assist rate is also a career-high, and he’s become a player the offense can legitimately be run through — breaking free from his assumed complementary role.
Most Magic fans haven’t thought of Afflalo as a piece for the future. When Orlando acquired him, the assumption was that he would eventually be flipped for a younger piece (ala the Redick-for-Harris swap). Now, I’m not so sure. At this point, the Magic seem better off keeping him as a steady veteran presence on this young team. Especially since his contract ($7.5 million through 2014-15 with a player option in 2015-16) has now become a bargain, considering he’s putting up a career-best 17.9 PER while averaging 20-4-4.
He’s 28, and likely at the peak of his career, but Afflalo deserves a lot of credit for working to become a better player after last season, even though he’s playing on a team not meant to win. Life may have been easier had he rejected the role thrust on him and simply went through the motions until being traded to a contender.
But instead, he’s been a spark of rejuvenation during a dismal season and has embraced his role of being “the guy.” He’s transformed into the Magic’s best player and having an All-Star caliber season.