Afflalo had a breakout season in 2013-14, the first time in his career as a first scoring option. In 73 games, Afflalo averaged a career-high 18.2 points while also notching a career-best 3.4 assists to go with 3.6 rebounds in 35 minutes a game. He shot .459/.427/.815 along the way.
His player efficiency rating was also a career-high at 16.0, the first time in seven seasons he came in above PER’s Mendoza line of 15 (the NBA average).
Afflalo was with the Nuggets for three seasons—2009-10 through 2011-12—and was a starter for most of that tenure.
But he wasn’t the guy behind Door No. 1, Door No. 2 or even Door No. 3 in the Denver attack. He averaged 11.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 31.1 minutes, shooting .478/.419/.801.
Now that he’s back in Denver—which missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003 after an injury-riddled 36-46 campaign, Afflalo thinks he sees championship-caliber stuff.
“I’m happy to be back in Denver, I got some very familiar teammates,” Afflalo told BasketballInsiders.com earlier this week. “I believe this is a championship team under the right mindset and coaching.”
While in Orlando last season, Afflalo mentioned frequently how difficult it was to remain motivated when there was no hope of making the playoffs, much less contending for a title.
There’s no question Denver is a better situation for that, considering the Nuggets should be getting back sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, and center JaVale McGee, who missed most of the year with a stress fracture in his leg.
Ty Lawson, the point guard who makes everything go in Denver, was also bothered all season by a variety of ailments and played in just 62 games.
In fact, only Timofey Mozgov played in all 82 games last season.
Denver’s 264 man games lost to injury was the second-highest in the league last season, according to mangameslost.com, behind only the 313 of the Los Angeles Lakers.
In fact, of the teams in the top five on the list, only Golden State (fourth with 220 games lost) made the postseason.
There were positives for the Nuggets. Kenneth Faried had a breakout campaign of his own, averaging 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds in 27.2 minutes per game.
But Faried really emerged over the final six weeks of the season. In his final 25 games, spanning March and April, Faried averaged 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game and shot 55 percent from the floor.
Faried was 18th in the NBA in scoring for March and April combined and was seventh in rebounding.
His aggressiveness also showed, as he was in the top 20 in free-throw attempts per game and converted 68.8 percent of them. Before you dismiss that, bear in mind that Faried was a career 63.3 percent shooter going into last season.
But is a return to health and the addition of Afflalo and rookies Gary Harris and Jusef Nurkic enough to make Denver a championship contender?
Or is it just a case that Afflalo is so happy to be out of the purgatory that has been the Orlando Magic in the post-Dwight Howard era that almost anything was liable to look shiny and wonderful by comparison?