February 11, 2011
The Associated Press' gamer following the Denver Nuggets' thrilling 121-120 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night begins by saying that Arron Afflalo(notes) "went from understudy to star in an instant." It's a nice sentiment, and you get the intent, but it's also not entirely fair.
Sure, draining a 20-footer over the outstretched arm of Shawn Marion(notes) to beat the buzzer and snare a much-needed victory on national television is likely the highest-profile moment of the former UCLA Bruin's four-year pro career. It capped a fourth quarter that saw Afflalo pour in 19 of his 24 points to help the Nuggets come back from a 13-point deficit against a Mavs team that had won 10 straight games heading into Thursday night. And with Carmelo Anthony(notes) having fouled out with 19 seconds left in the game after scoring a game-high 42 points, the stage was set for Afflalo to step up and stand out. It was, as these things go, a pretty big play.
In reality, though, it's not going to spur anyone to start considering Arron Afflalo among the league's star shooting guards. With an average of 13.1 points per game that makes him the fourth-leading scorer on his own team, he doesn't score enough to get that kind of pub, and unlike athletic marvels like teammate J.R. Smith(notes), he doesn't get buckets in the kind of jaw-dropping fashion that makes you take notice through undeniable bursts of brilliance. It's unlikely we'll remember this as the official start of the Arron Afflalo Is A Really Big Deal Movement; the hosannas will fade, the glow will ebb and he'll just go back to being good at what he does.
Also, it's worth noting that Afflalo's rise hasn't been instantaneous, and it didn't start when last night's final frame did.
He's had a reputation as a defensive stalwart since breaking into the league with the Detroit Pistons in the 2007-08 season, but he's worked hard to develop his offensive game and climb the ladder. His field-goal, 3-point, True Shooting and Effective Field Goal percentages have improved every year, he's hitting better than 85 percent of his free throws, and he's built off a strong preseason campaign to post career-best scoring and Player Efficiency Rating numbers.
Among players who have logged at least 500 minutes this season, he's tied for seventh in Offensive Rating (which estimates how many points a player produces per 100 possessions). He ranks in the top 25 in Offensive Win Shares (an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player as a result of his offense), ahead of the likes of Tony Parker(notes), Blake Griffin(notes), LaMarcus Aldridge(notes), Dwight Howard(notes), Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) and Zach Randolph(notes). Afflalo isn't a name of their caliber, but in a couple of contexts, at least, he's worked his way into their company. Given the relatively humble beginnings of his NBA career, that's an accomplishment in and of itself.
Hitting a shot at the buzzer is awesome, but it's not the full story; it's just the puncutation at the end of the longer narrative of Afflalo's progression from "afterthought rookie" to "nice little piece" to "rotation player" and, now, "legitimate NBA starter." It doesn't make for a punchy lede, but it's a story worth celebrating.
(Also worth celebrating: Kevin Harlan's phenomenal call of the shot, which gave this post its name. The dude's just so good at matching the excitement of a big moment.)