Arron Afflalo Poised for Breakout Season
After being traded to the Orlando Magic two months ago, Arron Afflalo believes that he’s on the verge of a breakout season. With five years of NBA experience under his belt, the shooting guard thinks he’s ready to take on a bigger role with the Magic and take his game to the next level.
Throughout the course of his career, Afflalo has never had the opportunity to be a number one option. During his two-year stint with the Detroit Pistons, he came off of the bench and deferred to veterans like Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace. During his three-year stint with the Denver Nuggets, he had to share the ball with Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Nene and then later with Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Al Harrington and Wilson Chandler.
While Afflalo has made a name for himself with his perimeter defense and yearly improvement, he hasn’t been able to showcase his offensive arsenal in those balanced attacks. On the Magic – a team desperate for a star and go-to scorer – he’ll have every opportunity to succeed and establish himself as the team’s alpha male, which is why Afflalo describes his move to Orlando as “a positive change.”
“It’s a great opportunity,” Afflalo told HOOPSWORLD. “You don’t get this opportunity too often, where you can continue to grow. I think everyone is excited about the new opportunity and fresh start they have here. I’m all about now. I’m all about today. I’m motivated and I want to continue to get better. I want to provide some spark and some energy. I want to give this city something they can get behind.”
Last season, Afflalo averaged a career-high 15.2 points per game with the Nuggets and his numbers increased significantly in the final months of the season. Afflalo has made huge strides on the offensive end. In the past, he was a catch-and-shoot threat, but he was clearly on the floor because of his defense. Now, he can put the ball on the floor and create his own shot, which he showed last season. During the first four years of his career, Afflalo scored 20 or more points just 13 times. Last year, he did it 16 times. He showed glimpses of brilliance throughout the season and was incredibly efficient.
“I’ll be in 27 in a few weeks and, in terms of a basketball career, there’s no better time than now,” Afflalo said. “I’m looking forward to expanding my game, on both ends of the court, in a Magic uniform.”
In recent months, Afflalo has worked hard to further expand his offensive game. This offseason, his training focused specifically on “becoming better at every facet of offense.” He also changed his diet and worked on his conditioning – running up to five miles each day – to ensure that he’d be able to play at a high level for four quarters. Don’t be surprised if he tops last year’s impressive numbers with another career-year, reflecting the hard work that he put in every day during the summer.
Afflalo is the first to admit that he’s not as naturally gifted as other players around the league. He’s rarely the fastest or strongest player on the court. He’s not a freak-of-nature athlete and he’s not going to jump out of the gym. With that said, Afflalo evens the playing field by outworking his peers. He has earned a reputation as one of the hardest working players in the league. Afflalo’s offseason training is extremely intense and, when he’s not locked in a gym, he’s watching film. Few players prepare like Afflalo, which lets him compete with players from better gene pools.
“For me to be successful at any level, I had to put in a lot of hours in the gym,” Afflalo said. “I wouldn’t say that I was overly blessed in any one area of basketball, except for having a love and a passion for it. My passion was my God-given blessing. I just stayed in the gym as much I could and worked hard.”
After the Magic completed the four-team trade with the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets, Orlando was criticized for dealing superstar Dwight Howard for what seemed like a mediocre package. Critics wondered why the Magic didn’t acquire one of the other All-Stars included in the blockbuster trade – Andrew Bynum or Andre Iguodala – or opt for a different deal altogether.
After the trade was finalized, the Magic front office was lambasted and it wasn’t long before Afflalo was in the line of fire as well, with doubters picking apart his game and questioning why he was the centerpiece that Orlando chose to build around. Afflalo heard the negative commentary and used it as motivation. He believes that the trade will be viewed differently in a few years, saying that “the truth will come out” as he shows what he’s able to do and takes his game to the next level.
“The idea is for me to get better on both ends of the court,” Afflalo reiterated. “I feel that I have the skill set to be better. From that standpoint, this opportunity is going to be good for me.”
Afflalo hasn’t even played a game for the Magic, but he’s already tired of hearing the word “rebuilding” used to describe the team. He’s sick of hearing that Orlando will be one of the worst teams in the league after trading away Howard and ushering in a new era. Afflalo is an intense competitor and he expects the Magic to exceed expectations during the upcoming season.
“When you throw the term ‘rebuilding’ around, it kind of implies that this is a team that’s willing to lose. There’s not a guy in this locker room, in this front office or in this coaching staff that’s willing to lose,” Afflalo said. “It’s very motivating. We lace our shoes up like every other NBA player. Basketball is always going to be a team sport and, regardless of the names on the back of our jerseys, if we play together then we’ll have a chance every night.”
Some veterans would struggle with the move from Denver to Orlando. The Nuggets are extremely deep and expected to be a contender in the Western Conference. The Magic are extremely young and expected to be a lottery team in the Eastern Conference. Even though his goals and expectations changed drastically upon being traded, Afflalo is genuinely excited to be in Orlando and wants to stay with the team for years to come. On media day, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan made it clear that no player on the roster is untouchable and that another trade could be made prior to February’s trade deadline. After hearing Hennigan’s comment about making another trade, Afflalo gave a scared look and said: “I hope I’m not in it.” He doesn’t have one foot out the door and, even though the trade caught him off guard, he believes that everything happens for a reason.
“I didn’t see it coming, not to here and not to anywhere else,” Afflalo said of being traded. “The Dwight trade was a trade that had to be made. Sometimes, to make things work, guys get moved around. I tend to believe that things don’t just happen because. There’s a reason I was brought here, some sort of purpose. I’m ready to take on that challenge.
“I love (Orlando). It’s a great environment and a great atmosphere. I’m happy to move here and live here. I’m happy to start something new and continue my career here.”
Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn has been extremely impressed with Afflalo during the first few days of training camp, describing him as a leader and someone who the Magic will “lean on” this year. Afflalo is prepared. When asked about his responsibilities in Orlando, Afflalo rattled off “scoring, defending and mentoring.” Then, after giving the question some thought, Afflalo admitted, “I’ll do anything that coach needs from me, anything to help this team be successful.”
In recent years, Afflalo has been a productive role player who has done whatever was asked of him. In Detroit and Denver, that often meant playing lockdown defense and deferring to his teammates on offense. In Orlando, he’ll be asked to do more than ever before and elevate his game. This is the opportunity that Afflalo has been waiting for and he swears he’s going to take full advantage.
“I’ll say this: I want to get better and I plan on getting better,” Afflalo said. “I see no limits in myself until I’m done playing.”