Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Score like Arron Afflalo
By Henry Abbott
John Hollinger has written profiles of every NBA player. On the Nuggets page (Insider), he has this to say about Arron Afflalo:
Afflalo really stepped up his offensive game this past season, getting more aggressive attacking off the dribble and drawing fouls while still maintaining his deadly 3-point threat (42.3 percent on the season, 40.8 percent career). As a result, he led all shooting guards in TS% at 62.0.
Afflalo isn't noted for his finishing skill, but he chose his spots well when he attacked. Most of his drives were to pass, but he also shot 67.1 percent at the rim and a stellar 52.7 percent on shots from 3-15 feet -- an area where most players shoot in the high 30s. He's not a great athlete but he is a good ballhandler for his size, and he showed it by ranking 10th at his position in pure point rating. In spite of all that, Afflalo is still basically a fourth or even fifth option offensively; last season he was 60th out of 66 shooting guards in usage rate.
The best true shooting percentage of any shooting guard in the NBA! That's super efficient. A lot of people would see that and think, wow, you could give him the ball a lot more and even if his efficiency tailed off, he'd still help your team.
Maybe those people are right.
But when I see Arron Afflalo, I see something different: A player who can be on the floor, helping the team immensely, while his teammates are maximizing their potential. And that's hard to find.
The NBA has overvalued scoring essentially forever. On almost every team at almost ever level of American basketball development the "best player" is the high scorer. The high scorers get promoted all the way through the system, middle school, AAU, high school, college, and to the NBA.
But on most NBA possessions, about one person gets to shoot. Four do not. It's a good bet at least three of them run back on defense feeling their skills have been wasted, a little. Only superstars get all the shots they think they deserve in the NBA, where even the defensive specialists very often led their college teams in scoring. (Defensive big man Kurt Thomas, of all people, led the whole NCAA.)
A lot of scoring requires time holding the ball, and dribbling. That stuff is OK if you're one of the best scorers in the NBA. But it's a waste of your teammates' talents if they can do that better than you. Afflalo wastes very little of his teammates' talents. When he catches the ball he quickly swings the ball to the open man if there is one, he takes the jumper if he's open, or if there's a lane to drive, he thunders to the hoop. Whatever happens is fast and it usually features one of his teammates shooting.
As a result he is, as Hollinger, says, the fourth or fifth option offensively. Perfect. Every team has to play five guys at a time, and they can't all lead. Few teams have players who are optimized to be the fourth or fifth player on offense -- someone who can be on the court not doing too much on offense, making great decisions, while the team runs smoothly.
It's easy to imagine a more skilled player like Jamal Crawford could do more to help a team get buckets. Would your team score better with Crawford or Afflalo on the floor? Crawford surely has far more scoring talent, but Afflalo's the guy who led the NBA's best offense in minutes played last season.