The obsession for Magic fans of late involves the idea of Arron Afflalo making the All-Star team.
Nobody saw the Magic having an All Star, let alone anyone threatening to make the All-Star Game, so soon after Dwight Howard's tumultuous departure. The winning might come a little bit later, but certainly some individual award shows the team has made some progress, does it not?
Fans so far have not noticed Afflalo's stellar season. He has not cracked the top-10 in voting among guards — remember you can still vote on NBA.com or by tweeting "Arron Afflalo #NBABallot" (retweets do not count). No one will argue that Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving are the runaway favorites for the two backcourt spots as starters.
The other guard spots seem up in the air between Afflalo, Jeff Teague, John Wall, Brandon Jennings, Kemba Walker and DeMar DeRozan. Figure that no more than three make the roster with possibly only two getting the coach's call to the All-Star team as a reserve. Remember, most likely, Roy Hibbert and Chris Bosh occupy spots on the roster already with Al Jefferson, Deron Williams, Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson maybe pushing for spots.
You can see already that there will be a reach for some of these spots on the team. Afflalo's chances of getting voted on the All-Star team as a reserve are as good as any other.
And he has certainly earned the opportunity. He is currently 11th in the league in scoring at 21.9 points per game. Among the league's top-10 scorers, only DeMarcus Cousins, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are shooting better than his 48.6 percent from the floor. As he has done throughout his career, Afflalo has only gotten better each season.
"Just watching [Arron] throughout the years, he has been in diferent roles he has played for different teams, now he is on a team where he is looked to score a lot more for this team and how he is not searching for shot, he lets the game come to him," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "He is able to post up. He's able to get some transition stuff. He is able to get some on the perimeter. He has grown his game and it is based around the team and the role he plays for his team."
Afflalo undoubtedly struggled his first year with the Magic. While his scoring increased to 16.5 points per game, the added weight of being a primary offensive option brought a ton of his other numbers down. He shot 43.9 percent from the floor and 30.0 percent from beyond the arc. His effective field goal percentage — 47.8 percent — dipped below 50 percent for the first time since his rookie year. His PER slipped to a below-average 13.0.
He needed to re-work his game to take on this extra load and so far this season he has certainly done that.
His scoring average is a career high, but he has pulled his shooting percentages up to 48.6 percent, his 3-point shooting to 44.6 percent and his effective field goal percentage to 55.7 percent. He is currently the only player in the league shooting 48/44/50 in those categories while playing 30 or more minutes per game.
Afflalo has posted a career-best 19.9 PER while seeing his usage rate increase to 24.1 percent.
Afflalo is using more possessions and using them more efficiently for the Magic. He has really focused on the ways in which he is successful in scoring — mainly post ups and working the left-side of the floor — while improving his catch-and-shoot ability and 3-point shooting.
He is playing offense at an All-Star level. It is just a matter of whether the coaches vote him into the game. Not that Afflalo cares about any of that.
"I'm developing regardless whether I was in Detroit or Denver or here," Afflalo said. "The idea for my journey was to get better. It doesn't matter what situation I would be in. Obviously the personnel asks certain responsibilities of certain players based on who's on the team. I plan on developing into the best player I can be regardless."
Afflalo appears to have done that part of the equation in making the All-Star team.
The part of the equation that comes next is team performance.
Unless it is painfully obvious that a player merits All-Star consideration, team record plays a part in the equation. It can be as much a team recognition as it is an individual recognition. The Magic, sitting at 10-20, do not have the prettiest record despite being 11th in the Eastern Conference right now. A few losses could have coaches forgetting Afflalo even exists.
That part seems difficult to imagine though. Afflalo has developed a reputation throughout the leage as someone who grows from his experiences, puts in a tremendous amount of effort and works hard for his teammates. What he lacks in ostentatiousness perhaps, he makes up for with his ability to do whatever his team needs him to do.
"I think you just experience things," Jacque Vaughn said. "[Arron] is at a different level of his career right now where he is asked to do more, the ball is in his hands more. You see that with his assists totals, you see that with his scoring totals. It's just a part of being in this league. Year after year you're going to be faced with different challenges. That's where he is at in his career right now."
Afflalo so far has met that challenge. He said he has not changed his mental approach or desire to get better since his days in Detroit and Denver. He continues to find new areas of his game to improve upon. Again, if that is not a sign of an All Star, it is tough to tell what is.
While trade rumors continue to swirl about his name, it is clear the Magic value what he brings on the court and his intangibles off it very highly. They will not simply trade him because he is a veteran, but only if it helps them bring someone in long term. Afflalo, after all, is playing at an All-Star level and fits the organization's culture. He provides a shining example in the locker room, approaching the game professionally while taking losses hard enough to show the young players that it should hurt and help you grow for the next game.
Afflalo has led the charge at least publicly in stating this team should be about winning and making the Playoffs, even if everyone else seems to have lowered the expectation and want something else.
You would be hard pressed to get Afflalo or Jacque Vaughn to talk about any of the individual honors of making the All-Star team (Afflalo did finish runner-up for Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the second time this year, by the way).
"I won't talk about the All-Star stuff," Vaughn said. "What I will talk about is he has been our most efficient and consistent player this year from training camp to today. I think he reallyt ook a challenge in the offseason in making his game efficient and challenging his teammates and having a resolve for himself every day and, after losses, of being able to respond and having a practice habit and also a playing habit. I think that's helped him be consistent for us."
That leadership has been what has really made Afflalo an All Star, or at least this team's All Star. It is why he is so valued and why he will be hard to pry away during the trade deadline and trade season.
Clearly, Afflalo has earned some of the recognition he deserves. A trip to New Orleans would be public recognition for what he has accomplished this season.