Why Denver's Quiet Acquisition of Arron Afflalo Was One of the Best Moves of the NBA Off-Season
Just before the start of this year’s free agency period, the Denver Nuggets completed a very underrated transaction by re-acquiring Arron Afflalo from the Orlando Magic in exchange for Evan Fournier and the rights to this year’s 56th overall draft pick Roy Devyn Marble. Afflalo spent three seasons with the Nuggets before being shipped to Orlando as part of the four-team trade that landed Dwight Howard on the Lakers in 2012. Now, after two years of extra seasoning on the Magic, Afflalo returns to the Nuggets as a borderline All-Star who might soon be on his way to becoming one.
One of the most interesting things about Afflalo’s career is that he has raised his scoring average in each of his seven seasons in the NBA. While some might consider the scoring upswing to be a natural extension of getting more minutes, Afflalo’s scoring averages per 36 minutes played and per 100 possessions have followed a similar trajectory.
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The 26.7 points he scored per 100 possessions last year beat out everyone from the Denver Nuggets roster, so he's a likely candidate to lead the team in scoring next year.
He gets a lot of his points from the three-point line, where he has become one of the best shooters in the game. His 1.8 threes made per contest last year was a career high for the kid out of Compton and his 42.7% success rate from deep ranked him sixth in the whole Association.
There were only eight players that shot better than 40% from each corner and above the break from long range last year and Afflalo was one of them. While some shooters score better in catch-and-shoot situations and others have more success with pull-up jumpers, Afflalo was effective in both scenarios. He shot 43.4% on long-range catch-and-shoot attempts and 40.0% on long-range pull-ups, finishing in the top-11 in both categories (the only NBA player to do so). He can create his own shot and does well with those that are created for him as well.
But it wasn’t just beyond the arc that Afflalo had success scoring the basketball. He filled it up last season from all over the floor. By looking at the shot chart below, you can see that Afflalo shot at (yellow) or above (green) league average in every single spot he could find to shoot from on the floor.
As one of the only experienced players in Orlando over the last two campaigns, Afflalo accomplished all that he did while receiving more attention from opposing defenses than he ever had before. Now that he’s re-joining a team with multiple seasoned scoring threats like Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari, he might even get more open looks and potentially raise his 45.9% field goal percentage closer to the 49.8% he posted in 2010-11 with Denver.
Apart from scoring and effective long-range shooting, Afflalo brings an otherwise well-rounded game back to the Nuggets. He was once considered a defensive specialist on the perimeter before shifting his focus more to the offensive end, but he can still be considered a plus-defender. He also added 3.6 rebounds and a career-high 3.4 assists per game last season, making him one of only four players in the whole league to average more than 18 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists, while shooting over 40% from deep (Stephen Curry, Carmelo Anthony, and Goran Dragic being the others).
As impressive as those final season numbers were, they don’t tell the full story of just how good Afflalo was at times last year and how good he has the potential to be as the primary offensive option on the Nuggets next season. Before the Magic took the plunge in developing rookie and fellow shooting guard Victor Oladipo last year, Afflalo was averaging 21.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game, while shooting 48.2% from the floor and 43.6% from deep through his first 30 games. After that, his minutes and usage rate went down and Oladipo’s went up. You can’t blame the Magic for shifting to youth development in a lost season, but the star potential that Afflalo managed to flash last year before they did shouldn’t be ignored.
Now, with no up-and-coming youth breathing down Afflalo’s neck for minutes in Denver and with the Nuggets trying to climb back into the competitive Western Conference playoff picture, he should have all the minutes and shots he can handle. If he can recapture the All-Star form he displayed early last season and continue to add to his all-around solid game, the Nuggets bringing him back to Denver could prove to be one of the best moves of this offseason outside of Cleveland.