Forget the stats, Afflalo just wants to take Magic to playoffs
JUN 05, 2014 12:00p ET
Arron Afflalo is one of only six players in NBA history to have improved his scoring average in each of his first seven seasons in the league.
Impressive as that is, he would exchange it with no hesitation to be taking part in the playoffs again.
After getting a taste of the postseason twice with the Detroit Pistons and three more times after that with the Denver Nuggets, Afflalo wound up on the outside looking in following both of his seasons with the Orlando Magic. The veteran guard was averaging 20 points a game by the start of February, raising the possibility he could be named as an Eastern Conference reserve in the All-Star Game despite the Magic's less-than-stellar record. But the pounding caused by playing close to 40 minutes a game and the beatings which opposing teams inflicted on the Magic left him physically and psychologically spent by the time April rolled around.
"It's tough. There are really no other words," Afflalo said of missing the playoffs. "It's a place I feel like I belong. It's a place I feel I would thrive. It's a place that I want to be."
After back-to-back seasons of at least 59 losses, it's a place that's looking more and more distant. The Magic finished 15 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the final spot in the East and will have the fourth overall pick in the draft later this month due in large measure to how poor their record was.
The strain of being so far out of contention was especially evident on Afflalo after the Cleveland Cavaliers torched the Magic for 70 first-half points in early April. He had only seven points in 29 minutes in the 119-98 loss and never once got to the free-throw line.
But with he and Jameer Nelson being the only members of the regular rotation with more than a handful of years in the league, Afflalo knows the Magic are counting on him to be a leader.
"You have to be driven from within," he said. "You have to want more for yourself. You have to take pride in not being satisfied. You can maintain a certain level of happiness because it's a blessing to be playing this game, but you have to be not satisfied with where you are. And it has to be deep-rooted. Guys that really love the game, they'll take their summer vacation and turn it into work."
It's easy to forget that Afflalo went into last summer still recovering from a late-season hamstring tear. Once the regular season began, he became a model of efficiency. The best illustration of that was when he scored 20 or more points in five consecutive games during December while shooting 50 percent or better overall and from 3-point range. Only Larry Bird and Detlef Schrempf had accomplished that feat in the NBA since 1985.
"The progression is what I'm proud of," he said. "Regardless of what the stats say, I do try to find ways every summer to hopefully be a better leader and push myself to be the best player I can be."
Afflalo was still averaging around 20 points when he injured his right ankle late in the Magic's double-overtime victory Feb. 21 over New York. He missed the next five contests and wasn't quite the same when he returned. He topped the 20-point mark just twice in his final 20 games and often had a tough time playing more than 30 minutes.
But the cutback in his usage allowed him to better appreciate the progress of younger players such as Maurice Harkless, Kyle O'Quinn, Tobias Harris and E'Twaun Moore.
"Every single player seems to have a little more confidence, a little more strength in their game," Afflalo said. "I'm really, really happy for them."
After immersing himself in an offseason conditioning regimen that he said will include some boxing and swimming, Afflalo plans to come to training camp ready to get himself and the Magic back to where they were in the standings a few short years ago.
"I'll be ready," he said. "My intent is to be here and help this group grow. I love my situation here. I couldn't ask for more."
WHAT HE DID RIGHT
In his first season with the Magic, Afflalo played in 64 games and averaged 16.5 points on 43.9 percent shooting. This past season, he played in 73 games and averaged 18.2 points while hitting 45.9 percent of his shots. He also showed a huge improvement in his 3-point efficiency and got to the free-throw line a team-high and career-high 336 times. Without a doubt, he was their most outstanding player.
WHERE HE NEEDS TO IMPROVE
Afflalo admitted his increased production on offense came at the expense of his attention to detail on defense. He tied Andrew Nicholson for the fewest steals per 48 minutes on the team (0.7). In terms of being a leader, he must get better at avoiding the temptation to check out mentally when things don't go the Magic's way.
Dec. 3 at Philadelphia. Afflalo had already scored at least 30 points three times during the first month of the season, but he went above and beyond that against the 76ers. He poured in 43 points, the most by a Magic player since Dwight Howard had 45 at Golden State in January 2012, while playing 52 minutes of a contest which required two overtimes.
Both the Chicago Bulls and the Charlotte Hornets have been rumored to be interested in acquiring Afflalo, who has one year left on his current contract for $7.75 million plus a player option for 2015-16 worth nearly $8 million. If the Magic draft Australian guard Dante Exum with the fourth pick a year after taking Victor Oladipo No. 2 overall, it would be hard to envision them not trading either Afflalo or Jameer Nelson.