Arron Afflalo‘s first trade to the Denver Nuggets back in 2009 was hardly noticed by Nuggets nation went it went down, but Afflalo’s got the whole town talking this time around after Denver traded Evan Fournier to bring him home. What a difference five years can make in the NBA.
George Karl surprised us all back in 2009 when he made Afflalo – who only averaged 14.8 minutes per game before the trade – the Nuggets’ starting shooting guard. He went from a no-name to a starter for a team that just went to the Western Conference Finals. Now his trade brings big expectations, and most of Denver is expecting Afflalo to bring the Nuggets back to the playoffs.
Back in 2009, Afflalo wasted no time proving Karl’s decision to start him right. He won over Nuggets fans while playing a career high 27 minutes per game, and the Nuggets-Afflalo love affair began instantly. Nuggets nation saw him blossom into a legit starter over the next four years, and right after he posted a career high 16.3 points per game in the 2011-12 season – twice as high as his 2009 average – Afllalo was traded to the Orlando Magic.
We all hoped he’d kill it in Orlando, but it really felt like his days as a Nugget ended too soon. However, the 2014 offseason is the offseason of homcomings (see LeBron James and Brian Scalabrine), so the Nuggets decided to give up Evan Fournier to bring him home to Denver. Afflalo is back, and the expectations are high. Will he be even better than we remembered in the 2014-15 season?
It’s crazy he got traded twice after posting a career high in points per game, but Afllalo got better in more ways than one in Orlando. In his last Nuggets season he put up averages of 15.2 points, 2.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds a game. Last season in Orlando he was better in every category: 18.2 points, 3.4 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. His Player Efficiency Rating (a stat that measures overall play) was 1.3 points better last year compared to his last season as a Nugget (16.0 vs 14.7) according to Basketball-Reference.com. Plus he HAD to be the leader on a young Orlando team which should translate to better leadership on the Nuggets.
The Nuggets will be giving him Randy Foye‘s starting role. It won’t be a shock to see Afflalo starting the first game like it was in 2009, so Afflalo’s real impact will be measured in how much better than Foye he can be. Afflalo won’t take ALL of Foye’s minutes, and Foye is a solid backup, but the roles are clear in that Afflalo is the starting shooting guard and Foye is the backup.
Afflalo was five points and 0.3 rebounds better than Randy Foye per game last season. His 16.0 PER last season would have been the Nuggets’ fifth best rating, while Foye’s 13.3 PER was eighth best. The two had nearly identical assists totals: Affalo put up 3.4 dimes per game, while Foye averaged 3.5, so how much better could Afflalo actually make the Nuggets?
While five points a game doesn’t seem like much, five more points per game last season means the Nuggets would have outscored their opponents on average. The Nuggets scored 104.4 points while giving up 106.5 points a game last year. Afflalo’s contribution would have pushed that ratio into the Nuggets favor, and his additional scoring would have made the Nuggets 2.9 points better than their opponents on average.
Afflalo provides that extra offense without sacrificing anything on the defense as well. In Afflalo’s best Nuggets season, opponents scored 111 points against him over 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Last season in Orlando he gave up 112 points per 100 possessions. Foye actually posted a similar number last season- he gave up 111 points per 100 possessions, but Afflalo posted those defensive numbers while consistently guarding the opposing team’s best player, and Foye was guarding less prominent players.
“I’m happy to be back in Denver,” Afflalo told Basketball Insiders. “I got some very familiar teammates. I believe this is a championship team under the right mindset and coaching.”
Looks like he gained some confidence while playing for Orlando, too.