While I hate to be the bearer of bad news during such an injury-plagued time for this Nuggets squad, I thought I would present an analysis of Arron Afflalo's game this season so we could see the numbers behind what many of us suspect: that something is wrong with Arron Augustin Afflalo. Afflalo has not looked like the same energetic, hard-nosed defender that could shoot the 3 like an AAAssassin that we loved the last two seasons. Let's take a look at the numbers after the break. All numbers are drawn from the excellent website basketball-reference.com.
First, Arron's offense, from which I believe most criticism of Afflalo is deserved:
PER: a measure of per-minute production standardized such that the league average is 15.
Since 2008-2009 with the Detroit Pistons, Afflalo has steadily increased his PER by about 2.3 points per season. This would point to a player who is continuing to develop his game and become more efficient in the process. That is, every year except this one:
Not only has Arron Afflalo not improved at all this year, he is playing worse than he was in the 2009 season, the swan song season of the old Denver Thuggets.
TS%: a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.
When Arron joined the Nuggets, many of us were extremely impressed at his ability to nail the dagger 3 on the drive-and-kick that the Nuggets ran to near perfection the last few seasons. He would set, shoot, and drain with remarkable frequency.
Afflalo's TS% is the lowest it's been since his rookie season. Not only can he not hit threes (down to just 37% from 42% last season), but his FT% is also down precipitously down this year.
9.3% (year to year) worse means that he's hitting just 1 fewer free throw per game, but at 75%, he's only hitting 3 of 4. Not good for your starting SG.
So, Afflalo's decline must surely be attributed to the fact that with all this depth, he just isn't getting the same number of touches and quality looks, right? Not so: Arron Afflalo has the highest USG% he has had since entering the NBA:
USG%: an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor.
With Afflalo's high USG%, and across-the-board drops in shooting, his offense has grossly regressed from hyper-efficient to barely above replacement:
ORTG: an estimate of points produced (players) or scored (teams) per 100 possessions.
That's right, Arron is scoring 1 fewer point per 100 possessions than he was during his rookie season in Detroit, despite handling the ball more than he ever has, while turning the ball over the most in his career (11.8 TOV%, an estimate of turnovers per 100 plays).
Still with me? Out of breath at the bad news? Me too.
Lastly, let us look at Arron's WS/48: an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player per 48 minutes (league average is approximately .100):
Arron has gone from contributing to an additional 28% over replacement to his team's wins last year to contributing almost 37% UNDER replacement.
Now you might be saying "Well wait, Beefy, the Nuggets aren't exactly hurting in terms of offense, they still have one of the league's best. So why all the focus on the offensive numbers?"
Mainly, because Afflalo's offense always allowed him to contribute on the defensive end more efficiently. To wit: when Afflalo nails a corner three from the wing, or scores easily on a fast break layup, he can get back on defense and keep the intensity up on the team's best scoring threat(s). When he's taking tough, off balance jumpers, or those 3s rim out, he has to hustle that much harder on the defensive end to get back, which further fatigues him on the offensive end and...the negative ouroboros cycle continues.
However, despite all the negative offensive numbers, Afflalo's defense is (marginally) better this year:
DRtg: an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions
He is playing better defense than he has since his rookie year, but I do not believe it is enough to compensate for his galling offensive inefficiency. His defensive win shares (DWS, an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense) have fallen from an average of 1.3 to just 0.3 this year.
It is possible that the Nuggets know more than they are publicly letting on: that Afflalo came into this season badly out of shape (likely, especially given Afflalo's own admission that he did not work out or play for fear of getting injured in the lockout-lengthened offseason), injured himself - note how these injuries for Afflalo seem to materialize out of nowhere and on no particular play this year - and is trying to fight through it. If that is the case, I credit Afflalo for his determination, and his work ethic has never been in question. However, what I am most worried about is that Afflalo may have hit his ceiling last year. I am not sure that even if Arron was 100% if he would be able to match last year's numbers.
Taken together, the numbers back up what our eyes tell us: Afflalo needs a fix to his offensive game, or the Nuggets may have signed Afflalo to a contract that could end up being more onerous than either Bird's or Harrington's.