Arron Afflalo was in Barcelona for an NBA clinic last week when the phone call came. Well, phone call might be metaphorical. It was more like a crawl going across the screen or an update going up on ESPN. Afflalo was on the Internet when ESPN reported he had been traded to Orlando as part of the Dwight Howard deal. Before that, he had not even followed the Howard rumors and trade discussions.
To his surprise, he found himself in the middle of it all in the end. And now he finds himself with a new opportunity in Orlando.
“It’s exciting for me. It’s a change,” Afflalo said as he was introduced to the media Thursday. “Change always brings mystery, it always brings doubt. But at the same time, from a positive outlook, it brings a lot of opportunity and a lot of room for growth. And that is the light that I feel most of people in the organization are looking at it and that’s the way we’re going to move forward.”
It is kind of hard to call anyone the “centerpiece” of the Dwight Howard deal for the Magic. They were not going after a replacement star it seems and were looking to take a step back by bringing in hard-working, young players to move around in future deals or as potential secondary pieces once the rebuilding is complete. Afflalo seems to fit that mold perfectly, and his three-year $7.75 million salary seems palatable for this rebuilding team moving forward.
Last year, Afflalo averaged a career-best 15.2 points per game last season in an increased role with the post-Carmelo Anthony Nuggets. His field goal percentage dropped only slightly with the increased field goal attempts as he shot 47.1 percent from the floor and shot a 53.4 percent effective field goal percentage. His PER last year was a career-best 14.7. This was on 12.1 field goal attempts per game, a number that is likely to increase this year with the Magic as Afflalo should quickly become one of the team’s best offensive options.
Opportunity has always been something Afflalo has had to grab when it was before him.
He was the 27th overall pick of the Pistons in 2007 and worked his way into their rotation as a rookie because of his defensive prowess. His role for that team was all about fitting into their defensive schemes and making shots when the opportunity presented itself. His offensive game grew slowly, but his defense kept him on the floor. He was traded to Denver in July 2009 and took advantage of that new opportunity, and an increased offensive role, playing alongside Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.
Afflalo said he really gained confidence in his abilities during that time playing alongside veterans like Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony, Nene and Kenyon Martin. When Anthony was traded, it was just another opportunity to expand his game and his role on the team.
It is safe to say that in his first full year without Anthony, Afflalo was able to do that.
“It’s just been a process, developing in this league period,” Afflalo said. “For most players, it’s going to come through hard work, perseverance, some criticism and some ups and downs unless you are kind of just thrust into a position and asked to do it from a rookie standpoint moving forward, as you see a lot with top picks.
“But for me, my journey and my process has been a little different. A lot of the skills that have come out through my career, I have had for a while. It’s just opportunity and understanding and my position with the team I’m currently on. For me, it’s nothing new. It’s just a matter of time, continuing to hone my skills and stay sharp with them so when the opportunity presents itself, I’m ready.”
In Orlando, Afflalo will certainly get that opportunity to showcase the skills he has honed in his four years in the NBA. His role will likely be bigger and more central than it has ever been in the NBA (although Afflalo admitted that he has not had the opportunity to fully discuss his role and how he fits in with the team with Jacque Vaughn).
Afflalo will be spending this season likely focused on his newfound central offensive role, but he may also have to return a bit to his roots. Last year was the first time in his five-year career he had a defensive win shares less than one at 0.6. It was also the third straight year his team had a defensive rating of 111 while he was on the floor. Those raw numbers may not change with a young Magic team around him, but those interested in his development would certainly like to see a return to his defensive bread and butter.
That is how he made his reputation and the league and how Jacque Vaughn chose to describe him during the press conference last week regarding the trade.
“He is a guy that two words come to mind for me: fiber and grit,” Vaughn said. “He is a guy that will be great in the locker room. He will show by example. He has made himself into the player that he is by working extremely hard. I’m a huge fan of his and I’m really excited to work with him.”
How much of that “grit” Afflalo brings to the Magic this year will be determined as the season starts. How much of it he brings in the long term will be determined as Orlando goes through its process in rebuilding.
Afflalo does have some experience that should help this team. The last year and a half in Denver is the model for a team without a superstar. It is that experience that should keep the Magic fighting throughout the year and could give hope to those wishing for a winning season this year.
Nobody is quite sure what the future will hold. Afflalo certainly isn’t. But if Afflalo can add anything to this team, it is the recognition of seizing the opportunity when it is there.
“Predictions are fun. They’re entertaining. But at the end of the daY, the game has to be played,” Afflalo said of going through the rebuilding process. “There are so many different factors that determine the outcome of a single game, of a single play, of a single season. The idea is to be at your best and stay healthy and make the most of your opportunity despite what you may see on paper.”