ORLANDO, Fla. – Arron Afflalo is not about to describe what he is going through as a mid-career identity crisis.
But after six years in the NBA and the first in which he was on a team that failed to make the playoffs, the Orlando Magic guard is feeling the need to start making a name for himself.
“I’m kind of getting to the age now where I’m kind of settling into being great at something,” he said. “Whether it’s being a high-level defensive player, a high-level shooter, an efficient scorer, doing the things where I’m really playing to my strengths. That’s something I’m looking forward to.”
It would be understandable if Afflalo didn’t want to look back for very long on his first season with the Magic. Not only did they lose 62 games, but he missed the last three weeks because of a tear in his right hamstring that is still preventing him from taking part in basketball drills.
“It is what it is,” he said. “We had a lot of firsts in terms of role definition, in terms of learning, in terms of the coaching staff. And when you’re fully committed to doing better and trying to win it all at some point in time, you have to go through experiences like this. All we can do is try to learn from what happened this year and move forward into next year.”
Until being part of the four-team trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, Afflalo spent three seasons as a starter in Denver, where George Karl has coached the Nuggets since halfway through the 2004-05 season. With the Magic, he was one of the oldest players on a roster overhauled by first-year general manager Rob Hennigan and entrusted to first-year coach Jacque Vaughn.
Vaughn often used Afflalo and J.J. Redick together and even started both of them for a stretch of games in November, with the 6-foot-5 Afflalo listed as a small forward. But even before Redick was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, it was not uncommon for Afflalo to play 40 or more minutes a game.
“Next year, I’ll be that much of a better player because I’ll be sticking to goals and really accepting goals,” he said.
If Hennigan is not finished making major roster changes, Afflalo and fellow veterans Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis are generally regarded as the players with the most trade value. With all three of them sidelined down the stretch, the Magic often went with a starting lineup that had just one player older than 23.
Afflalo, who will turn 28 in October, suffered his injury during the second quarter March 22 against the Oklahoma City Thunder while chasing down a loose ball. By the time training camp rolls around, he has every bit of confidence he’ll continue to help younger players such as Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless.
“The guys who are here, those are the guys I have to get out on the court with and build chemistry with,” he said. “From that angle, I believe in them. I’ve seen qualities in them. I’ve seen skill sets in them that are going to allow us to compete and play hard.”
What He Did Right
Afflalo was one of five NBA players to lead his team in scoring after being traded at the end of last season. Affalo’s 16.5-point average was the best of his career and included 24 games in which he topped the Magic in scoring. He also hit 85.7 percent of his free throws. While not a vocal leader, he brought a calming presence to a locker room full of young players and deserves some of the credit for how rookie Maurice Harkless improved as the year went on.
Where He Needs to Improve
Afflalo’s 3-point shooting percentage dropped significantly from the numbers he put up during his three years with the Denver Nuggets. He might need to start relying less on that shot and become even more of a mid-range jump shooter and slasher. It remains to be seen what the effects will be of a torn right hamstring which sidelined him for the final 12 games, especially if Afflalo wants to establish a reputation as a defensive stopper.
Jan. 12 at Los Angeles Clippers. With the Magic mired in a 10-game losing streak, Afflalo put together his best all-around game of the season against the NBA’s hottest team at the time. He finished with 30 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in a 104-101 victory. The native of Los Angeles scored 30 points both times he played back home, and the Magic were 2-0 in those games.
His future in Orlando could depend on whether the Magic draft someone in the first round who plays the same position as him or if they determine Harkless is more of a shooting guard than a small forward. Afflalo has two years left on his current contract plus a player option for 2015-16, with only Jameer Nelson likely to make more money than him next season.