Arron Afflalo: Ready to Bounce Back

Arron Afflalo will suit up for his fifth NBA team this coming season. He is the Knicks’ second biggest free agent acquisition of the offseason. Despite New York’s additional signings of Robin Lopez and Derrick Williams, expectations are low in the short run. There’s not much depth on the roster especially at guard, which presents plenty of opportunities for Afflalo to produce. As a result, GM Steve Mills’ 2-year offer worth $16 million to Afflalo must have been music to his ears. Some experts expected that Afflalo might get closer to $10 million annually, but the contract includes a player option that allows Afflalo to hit free agency after the season.

Over the last two years, Afflalo has gone from a near All-Star with the Magic to a starter lacking consistency with the Nuggets, to a playoff afterthought with the Blazers following a shoulder injury. During 2015-16, Afflalo should perform more like he did during his career-best season of 2013-14 in Orlando rather than the disjointed 2014-15 campaign spent with Denver and Portland.

Last season, Afflalo averaged 13.3 points per game but shot his worst percentage from the field since he was a rookie for the Pistons. Even so, his skill remains evident: Afflalo is a capable shooter especially when his role is consistent, possessing an uncanny ability to hit three-pointers from the corner.

During 2013-14, many considered him an All-Star snub: he scored 18.2 points per game and shot a terrific 42.7% from downtown, including eight threes in a single contest. He has played close to this level during other seasons, including 2011-12 when his Player Efficiency Rating was nearly 15. Afflalo plays well with his back to the basket, featuring a nice fadeaway jumper and a polished up and under move. According to Synergy Sports Tech, Afflalo was the third most effective post scorer in the league last year at the time of his trade to Portland. He has demonstrated the ability to shoot off the dribble or create for a teammate, piling up over three assists per game while playing in Orlando. In addition, Afflalo is a strong perimeter defender, stopping threes at a rate 3.7% better than the league average last season.

Afflalo will be urged to take long range shots and is unlikely to fall into the overly deferential patterns that sometimes plagued him in 2014-15. For example, during consecutive November games last season, Afflalo attempted a total of eight shots despite being Denver’s third leading scorer over his tenure. He wasn’t consistently comfortable with the Nuggets after Orlando traded him there during last offseason. He nonetheless showed off his talent on several occasions, shooting 11 for 18 during a game against Minnesota on January 5 in which he finished with 34 points. That came less than a month after dropping 31 versus the strong defense of San Antonio.

In the wake of his signing, Afflalo expressed his excitement at playing in New York and explained that the team “made me a priority on what they felt I could do offensively and defensively.” Afflalo will be locked into a starter’s spot and should benefit from defenses collapsing on Carmelo Anthony. When healthy, Anthony is still a major threat on offense and actually lobbied for Afflalo to come to New York. After all, they were teammates for about two years during Afflalo’s first stint with the Nuggets and worked out together in Los Angeles during those offseason(s).

The Knicks’ point guard depth chart includes Jerian Grant, Jose Calderon, and Langston Galloway. On the other hand, there are few reliable options at shooting guard, so it’s hard to imagine head coach Derek Fisher benching Afflalo even if he has a poor start to a game.

By inking Afflalo to a short-term deal, the Knicks handed him a great chance to cash in on the salary cap increase next year. In turn, they will benefit from his considerable three-point shooting ability, which fits well into the triangle offense implemented by Fisher under Phil Jackson’s auspices. Afflalo is also a capable passer for a shooting guard, so he can find Anthony on the wing or Lopez in the post once he drives to the hoop or backs down his man. Finally, he should get all the minutes he can handle and the predictability needed to put up great numbers. Afflalo alone may not guarantee playoff games at Madison Square Garden, but the Knicks will profit from his performance.

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photo via llananba