The Orlando Magic were pretty terrible this year, there’s no escaping that fact. However, without the inspired and to a large extend unknown level of play of guard Arron Afflalo, it could have been a lot worse. One of the players that came to the team in the Dwight Howard trade, the former Denver Nugget was just what the rebuilding organization needed from the ge-go, a positive player who let his play speak for itself. The Magic couldn’t have known then how important he’d be to the team, but they do now, so let’s take a look at his year with the team more closely.
As you can probably imagine judging by that opening paragraph, there’s a lot of good things to be said for Afflalo. What Orlando thought they were getting was a solid two-way player that could do a little bit of everything. In fact, some even thought he would be traded to help continue to somewhat successful rebuild happening in Florida. What they got instead was a two-way guard who also became the focal point of the offense and a real leader of this team. In fact this was a career year for the player, averaging career highs in points (18.2) and rebounds (3.4). Taking on the scoring burden in particular was big both for his development as a player, and for the team. Before this year Afflalo was a player who was not a big offensive weapon and got his own mostly by being a spot-up shooter, there wasn’t much more being ran exclusively for him. That has changed now though, and his .427 shooting from behind the 3-point line was the best of his career. He also shot the ball from behind the arc more than ever before, taking his offensive game of the past and adding to it in a bid to get this team points.
Off the court Afflalo was big for the team as well, embracing his leadership role and really getting involved with the community. His participation in the 3-point contest at All-Star weekend was a nice boost for Magic fans as well, seeing one of their own at least have some part in the festivities. At 27, Afflalo is not old but he does also bring a veteran leadership that this team severely lacks. On a personal level everything he has done this year has been great. It’s been so good in fact, that it leaves the team with a difficult decision. They could build around him, although he is not talented enough to be “the guy” on this team. Certainly keeping him around would be great though, he really hasn’t put a foot wrong since arriving. However, his trade value has never been higher and with two years left on his contract (second year being a player option) he would be a fantastic contributing piece to a contending team. At $7.7 million next year and slightly more than that the year after, he represents arguably the best value for money in the entire league too, a very friendly contract. So whereas before trading him would have been the wise decision, there are so many reasons to keep the guy around.
Of course it can’t all be good though, the Orlando Magic only won 23 games all season, and only four away from home. Afflalo simply shouldn’t be the go to guy on the offensive end for this or any team. It is not where his strengths lie. He has done it out of necessity for this team, so it is not his fault, and in actual fact he’s done a better job than anybody thought he could do. But it is not his game. Other than that, it is again a question of noting that Orlando turned them into their No. 1 guy, and that is something he is not, so while he has shortcomings in terms of being a closer and somebody a team can bank on, it’s not his game and never will be. If he remains a Magic player next year, which at this moment is probably a 50-50 scenario, the hope would be that a more attack minded player will also be on board then as well, allowing him to play his game.
All in all Arron Afflalo had a great year for this team. In fact, he was one of the most improved players in the entire league, and while he won’t win that award, he will make any lists of the players who improved most and deserve a mention. Expectation is beginning to creep into the picture again though, and fans are starting to get a little restless. There will be changes this summer, and it is hard to say if Afflalo is in the long term plan for this team. If he is though, keeping him would be a great thing, as he has really meant that much to the Orlando Magic this year, both on and off the court.