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Afflalo Opens Up About Breakout Season

Orlando Magic guard Arron Afflalo recently opened up to Basketball Insiders about his breakout campaign, All-Star hopes and more.

Alex Kennedy

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It’s no surprise to Arron Afflalo’s Orlando Magic teammates that he’s having the best season of his seven-year NBA career at 28 years old. Over the offseason, Magic players were predicting that Afflalo would have a breakout season.

If you asked Magic players which player was most impressive during their voluntary summer workouts, they all had the same answer: Afflalo. They would talk about how he was unstoppable during pick-up games – scoring on everyone and looking like a different player. They would talk about how he’d lecture young players when they weren’t putting the team first or working their hardest. They would talk about how he was ready to make the jump to elite status.

Over the summer, these predictions were written off as teammates overreacting to workouts and overrating their peer. After all, Afflalo had struggled in the 2012-13 season when thrust into the role of go-to scorer and number one option. Before last season, he talked about becoming one of the top shooting guards in the league, but he quickly realized that being an elite player and top option is harder than it looks. He averaged a career-high 16.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists, but it wasn’t the huge leap that everyone expected from him. He shot just 43.9 percent from the field and 30 percent from three-point range. At times, his shot selection and decision-making left a lot to be desired.

»In Related: Orlando Magic Salary Cap Information

Now, looking back, Afflalo is the first to admit that he wasn’t ready for that kind of increased role. However, this season, he has been spectacular. He’s averaging 20.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists. His efficiency rating is a career-high 18.48 and he’s clearly the best player on the court for Orlando.

“I learned patience,” Afflalo told Basketball Insiders. “I really learned patience. Sometimes when you’re given the ball, you start [forcing it]. And you want to succeed so bad, especially since that was my first opportunity – at the NBA level – being asked to [be the go-to guy]. So over the summertime, I just learned to read the game a little bit better and pick my spots a little bit better. The key word for me is efficiency. It’s not just about having the ball and getting a lot of shots, it’s about taking and making the right shots, making the right plays. That’s why I’ve been given that responsibility. If I have to take 10 or 11 shots, I’m going to make sure that they’re great shots for me. If there are games where I’m going to get 19 or 20 shots and have an explosive game, I’ll take that too, but for me the big keys have been patience and efficiency.”

This is the player that Magic general manager Rob Hennigan hoped he was getting when he orchestrated the four-team trade that brought Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and picks to Orlando in exchange for Dwight Howard and fillers.

Jason Maxiell, who played with Afflalo on the Detroit Pistons and now with the Magic, is thrilled to see his longtime friend succeed. For years, he has called Afflalo “Baby Kobe” since the shooting guard grew up a huge Kobe Bryant fan in Los Angeles and tried to add Bryant’s moves to his own repertoire. Now, Afflalo is finally taking over games and dominating like his L.A. idol, and the nickname makes more sense.

“I’ve known Arron since he was drafted in Detroit, we played together for a few years there, and he’s been the same guy ever since,” Maxiell said. “His work ethic is intense – he comes in early and he leaves late. He’s not very verbal, but you can see on the court how hard he plays. That and his mentality influences the younger guys and will help them grow over the years. His game has evolved tremendously. I’ve watched him go from a young player to the player he is now. I’ve always called him ‘Baby Kobe’ because his role model is Kobe. Every time he’s on the court, every move and every little thing he does is all about Kobe. It’s great to be able to watch him [succeed] and see him grow.”

Growing up, when Afflalo watched Bryant or Michael Jordan put up huge numbers and annihilate their opponent, they made it look so easy. Being a superstar and a number one option didn’t seem difficult at all for those guys. Now that he understands what it takes to be in that position, Afflalo has a great deal of respect for those legends and their consistency.

“I do [have more respect for those players now],” Afflalo said of the superstars who consistently put up big numbers. “More so for what they do in the offseason, because I know all of the work that I had to do on my body so that I could get to the point where I could handle that, where I was strong enough and in shape enough to be able to handle that. I’m more impressed with how long they were able to physically stay in shape and the fact that they could come out every single night and perform at that high level. People pay to come see them play at that level; they don’t just want to watch the Lakers win, they want to see Kobe Bryant play well or they want to see Michael Jordan play well. It’s impressive that those guys were able to come out every night and perform at that level. That’s what I’m shooting for.”

»In Related: Six Things to Know About the Orlando Magic

So far, Afflalo is delivering. He’s even getting some All-Star buzz. While it’s clear that Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade will start in the Eastern Conference’s backcourt due to fan voting, it’s possible that Afflalo is selected as a reserve by the NBA’s coaches. He’s competing with players like John Wall (who seems like a lock) and DeMar DeRozan among others. With stars like Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo injured, Afflalo certainly has a shot at making the East All-Star team.

“When I get asked that question, I do respect the fact that when you play well individually, it has to be a reflection of your team and if we continue to win and continue to get better, then I would appreciate it,” Afflalo said of being an All-Star. “I know I’m not going to get the fan vote, but from the coach’s perspective it’s definitely something that I would appreciate.”

It’s common to hear Afflalo talk up his teammates and he’d much rather discuss the Magic’s success than his own. The veteran is proud of the progress that Orlando’s young players have made this season.

“We’re trusting each other and the game is being played the right way,” Afflalo said of the Magic this season. “Everybody is being aggressive, but being aggressive with the right intent. When we all do that and play for each other, we can compete with any team on a nightly basis.”

Afflalo has shown tremendous growth this season, but he believes this wouldn’t have been possible without the previous six years. He learned so much during his time with the Detroit Pistons and Denver Nuggets, as he was asked to do more and more with those teams.

“Every year has been different,” Afflalo said. “It’s been different. I’ve never been one to stay the same. When I came in as a rookie, that Pistons team that I came in to was a veteran team that had been to a lot of Conference Finals. When you’re a rookie, you do whatever you can to get on the court and for me, that was playing defense. Then, when I got to Denver, that was kind of my first opportunity to be a two-way player. But even my first years in Denver, they had Carmelo [Anthony], Chauncey [Billups], Nene, Kenyon [Martin], J.R. [Smith], all of these guys who could score the ball so I still played that defensive role. Then, I just continued to evolve. I had some growing pains last year trying to be that [go-to] guy and I learned a lot. That experience was very, very valuable. I took all that I learned and got my body into shape and got my mind geared for this year, just to make sure that I was well prepared.”

One thing that Afflalo is still getting used to is double-teams. He rarely experienced that earlier in his career and now teams are throwing the kitchen sink at him as they try to slow him down.

“I’ve been seeing those the past few weeks now,” Afflalo said with a smile when asked about double teams. “But my teammates have been great, they’ve been hitting shots and they’ve still set screens for me and things of that nature. For me, if that’s going to be the case, I’ve just got to pass the ball and hope it comes back around.”

When asked if Afflalo saw this breakout campaign coming, he pauses and then grins.

“If you ask any guy who evolves and gets into the elite status, they’ve had a belief from day one,” Afflalo said with a smirk. “It’s not like they didn’t believe in themselves and then suddenly [they started believing]. I’ve always believed in myself, even when I was first coming into the NBA and for the five or six years when it was unclear to so many. And it may still be unclear to some people now. I mean, I’m only 30 games into this season and some guys have done this year after year after year. But that’s where I want to be. I want to continue to get better and do this year after year.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Williams, Clippers Will Keep Pushing Through

The Clippers veteran guard chats with Spencer Davies in a one-on-one Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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For the second straight year, Lou Williams started his basketball season as a resident of California.

Despite being moved by the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline back in February, it wasn’t a long stay for the 31-year-old in Houston. After bolstering the Rockets’ bench in a big way during their playoff stretch, the organization dealt the veteran guard to the LA Clippers, meaning he was going right back to the City of Angels.

Which begs the question—did he even relocate from his old place?

“Yeah, I moved,” Williams told Basketball Insiders in Cleveland on Friday. “But I ended up moving back into the same neighborhood that I was in, so it was all good.”

The familiarity with the area must’ve been comforting, but playing for three different teams in such a short amount of time can’t be easy. It’s only been 15 games, but he already notices a discrepancy between the two that share the same arena.

“Obviously when you have different people running it,” Williams answered when asked to compare the Los Angeles franchises. “I think the Lakers were in a different space than the Clippers are. The Clippers are a more veteran group, so two completely different atmospheres.”

Winning four straight games to kick off the 2017-18 campaign, the year started out great for he and his new team, but it’s gone downhill in a hurry.

The Los Angeles Clippers are hurting in every way. Literally.

Only halfway through a five-city road trip, they’ve lost eight consecutive games and 10 of their last 11. Key members of their team are absent and they have been plagued by injuries out of the gate.

First, it was international sensation Milos Teodosic who went down with a foot injury in just the second NBA game of his career. Then there’s Danilo Gallinari, whose ailing hip has kept him out of action for two weeks. To top it all off, Patrick Beverley is dealing with a sore right knee that has forced him to miss over a week as well (he’ll reportedly be active on Monday night).

Without the trio, the Clippers are missing a little bit of everything, and Williams is eager for them to return to the floor because of it.

“It’s three starters,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “One guy’s our heart and soul on the defensive end. We have another guy who was leading us in assists and we have another guy who’s second in scoring.

“Three very important pieces of our team are missing. But we have other guys that’s stepping in doing the best job that they can. We’re just falling short.”

Aside from their most recent 15-point loss to the equally struggling Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center, Los Angeles has competed and been in almost every game during the long skid.

In Cleveland, they led for most of the way until midway through the fourth quarter. It was a back-and-forth affair when the Cavaliers struck back, and once the game went into overtime, the Clippers went cold and ran out of gas.

Taking out the element of overtime, the “close game, but no win” trend has been apparent as they attempt to get over the hump for a victory. Williams sees his team battling. They’re just not getting the outcomes they desire.

“Just continue to push,” Williams said of how LA can climb the wall. “We’ll have a couple of guys back this week from injuries.

“We’ve been playing extremely hard giving ourselves an opportunity to win these games and just haven’t been able to finish. Get guys back, just continue to push. We’ll break through.”

If Williams keeps on producing the way he has, especially as of late, that could be sooner rather than later. Over the last five games, the scoring assassin has put up over 30 points in two of them and 25 in another. In addition, he’s averaged over four rebounds, four assists, and more than a steal per game during the stretch.

When asked about what’s made him so comfortable, he kept it simple.

“Just playing,” Williams told Basketball Insiders.” Taking what the defense gives me and try to make shots. That’s it.”

Williams is special when it comes to how much he can impact a game in the snap of a finger. Over the course of his career, he’s one of those guys that have been able to just go off at any given moment.

“Just continue to play,” he said. “Play [as] hard as I can. I never really think about it until after the game. I just go out there, play [as] hard as I can. Put myself in position to score points and live with the results.”

You can recall Williams being an elite sixth man in this league for just about every team he’s been a part of. Whether it was with the Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Lakers, Rockets or even with the Clippers now, he’s constantly been a guy to provide a powerful punch off the bench.

With the consistency and the energy he’s provided with second units throughout his career, it’s rather surprising that Williams has only won the Sixth Man of the Year award one time in his career. Having established this reputation, it should only be a matter of time before he’s rewarded again.

That being said, it’s got to be one of his aspirations, right?

“Not anymore,” Williams told Basketball Insiders, admitting he felt slighted in last year’s race. “Nah. Probably had one of the best seasons of my career and finished third, so I don’t really care no more.”

Furthermore, as one of the top sharpshooters the NBA has to offer, he told Basketball Insiders he doesn’t wouldn’t care to participate in the three-point contest, either.

Moving away from the individual side of things, Williams has enjoyed his time with the Clippers for the short time he’s been a part of the franchise.

One good reason is the opportunity to play under one of the league’s most respected head coaches in Doc Rivers, whom he credits has a unique manner of making adjustments.

“Doc is a high basketball IQ coach,” Williams said. “He knows how to break down the game on the fly, which is impressive. A lot of coaches, they make a lot of corrections at halftime or in film sessions. Doc makes them on the fly, which is great.”

Playing alongside two superstars isn’t so bad. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are a pairing that can dominate each and every time they step on the floor. In fact, having those two alone should be enough for the Clippers to get things turned back around.

When the frontcourt duo clicks on a nightly basis and the team returns to full strength, Williams believes that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

“It’s been fun,” Williams told Basketball Insiders of the experience with Griffin and Jordan. “Obviously, we would like to win some games and I think that tide is gonna turn once we get back healthy.

“But these two All-Star guys in this league that’s done an exceptional job for this organization—so it’s been a good time being with these guys.”

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NBA AM: All-Time Biggest Comeback Wins

The Warriors’ big 24-point comeback over the weekend was incredible, but where did it rank all time?

Joel Brigham

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One of the biggest NBA stories of the weekend was the Philadelphia 76ers scoring 47 points against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter Saturday night, only to blow their 24-point lead in fairly embarrassing fashion.

Kevin Durant joked about not being able to lose to Philadelphia for fear for Joel Embiid peacocking on Twitter afterward, while Embiid wrote about taking the loss in stride, adding “blowing a big lead” to their arsenal of experiences to avoid repeating in games to come.

In any event, that 24-point comeback was one of the most impressive comebacks in NBA history, though the good news for the Sixers is that there have been bigger blown leads than their own. Some of them much, much bigger. Heck, the Miami HEAT blew a 25-point lead just two weeks ago, so crazier things have happened.

The following are those crazier things. These are the biggest blown leads in NBA history:

#5 Boston Celtics vs. L.A. Lakers (2008) – By the time Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals had started, the Celtics had taken a 2-1 lead in the series, and the pivotal Game 4 was going to go down in Los Angeles. From the get-go, the Lakers looked like they were going to tie the series with little problem, jumping out to a quick 26-7 lead and finishing the first quarter up by 21 points. The lead got as large as 24 at one point, with L.A. still holding a 20-point lead with six minutes left in the third quarter.

But Boston ripped off a 21-3 run to finish the third quarter, cutting the lead to two and making it a much more exciting game than the first two-and-a-half quarters suggested. Their spirits broken, L.A. lost the game and, eventually, the series.

#4 Utah Jazz vs. Portland Trail Blazers (2010) – The Jazz came into Portland for this February game back in 2010 without starting center Mehmet Okur, whose absence was felt immensely as the Jazz fell into a 25-point deficit, trailing by 23 halfway through the third quarter. After chipping away at that lead throughout the fourth quarter, Utah still faced a four-point hole with just 30 seconds to go in the game, but Deron Williams made a couple of free throws, the Jazz got a stop on the defensive end, and Carlos Boozer put-back a last-second miss to send the game into overtime, where the Jazz put the finishing touches on the remarkable comeback win.

#3 Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Dallas Mavericks (2008) – The Minnesota Timberwolves in 2008 were not good. Still rebuilding post-Garnett, they had no business jumping out to a massive lead over the much more talented Dallas Mavericks, but that’s exactly what happened. The mediocre Wolves built a seemingly insurmountable 29-point lead, but as it happens, the lead was in fact quite mountable, as the Mavericks ripped into that lead thanks in large part to 24 second-half points by Jason Terry. With a seven-point victory, the Mavericks pulled off an impressive 36-point turnaround, albeit against one of the league’s worst teams.

#2 Sacramento Kings vs. Chicago Bulls (2009) – In one of the most stunning comebacks in league history, the Sacramento Kings rallied from being down 79-44 with 8:50 remaining in the third quarter to demoralize a Bulls team that flat-out didn’t see it coming. Sacramento finished the quarter on a 19-5 run to cut the lead to 19, then got it down to 95-91 with 2:28 left in the game. Rookie Tyreke Evans outscored the entire Bulls’ team 9-3 the rest of the way, and the comeback was complete. All of this was in Chicago, and the city’s fans literally booed the Bulls off the court. Needless to say, that was Vinny Del Negro’s last season as head coach in Chicago.

#1 Denver Nuggets vs. Utah Jazz (1998) – In the midst of a seven-game winning streak, a Jazz team featuring Karl Malone and John Stockton did not enter this contest against Denver in 1998 expecting to fall into a 36-point deficit. The score was 70-36 at halftime with the lead expanding further in the third quarter, but that’s when Utah started to grind their way into the lead behind big nights from Malone (31 points) and Jeff Hornacek (29 points). Despite it being a record-breaking comeback, there was no one big remarkable moment. Rather, the Jazz just dismantled the Nuggets through attrition over the course the second half en route to a truly impressive come-from-way-behind victory.

The fact that teams have come back from deficits this huge is exactly why current NBA teams talk about never taking the foot off the gas. Almost no lead is safe, and that’s the beautiful thing about basketball. Sometimes the momentum shifts, and all that planned Twitter bragging goes right down the tubes. At least in Philadelphia’s case the team on the other end of the comeback was the defending champs.

And as this list proves, it could always be worse.

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NBA Sunday: Raptors Aren’t Extinct Just Yet

The Celtics should be a concern to the Cavaliers, but the Raptors shouldn’t be overlooked, either.

Moke Hamilton

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The Toronto Raptors aren’t extinct—not yet, anyway.

With the whirlwind of movement that dominates the headlines this past NBA offseason and the growth of several young players, we’ve spent far more time discussing the likes of the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks than the team from up North.

We’ve asked ourselves whether LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers can win the Eastern Conference for a fourth consecutive year and whether or not the Washington Wizards are finally ready to give some credible resistance. Some of us have even gone as far as to predict that, in the ultimate irony, Kyrie Irving will lead the Celtics to the conference crown this season.

And that doesn’t even begin to talk about the storylines from out West.

All the while, quietly and meticulously, Dwane Casey and his Raptors have stalked, and you peer at the standings and realize that they enter play on November 19 at 10-5, tied with the Pistons for the second-best record in the conference.

What has made the Raptors thriving especially improbable is the fact that they’ve done it despite missing a few key contributors for a game or two. To this point, they have ranked respectably both in points allowed per game (102.6) and points allowed per 100 possessions (107.8). Those metrics rank them eighth and 11th, respectively.

So, where exactly do the Raptors fit in the grand scheme of things?

It seems like a question we’ve been asking for a few years now.

* * * * * *

Having qualified for the playoffs four consecutive years, Dwane Casey’s team has won three playoff series over the course of that duration, but haven’t exactly found timely and efficient play from their two star players in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

Now, as the Eastern Conference begins to feature younger players with appreciable upside—Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Ben Simmons and Jaylen Brown to name a few—it’s totally fair to wonder where the Raptors fit in. It’s also fair, believe it or not, to wonder whether they’ll be able to provide as much resistance to the Cavaliers as the Celtics.

In effect, the Raptors have become a modern day version of Joe Johnson’s Atlanta Hawks. After signing with the Hawks prior to the 2005-06 season, Johnson led the revival of the franchise. They would end up qualifying for the playoffs five consecutive years, but never advanced past the second round. A similar story can be told of Chris Paul’s Los Angeles Clippers.

The point is, however, that over the years, the Raptors have developed an identity and are a team whose hallmarks have come to be toughness and ball-sharing—two characteristics that most coaches would love to embody their team. While we’ve been paying close attention to the things that are brand new and exciting, the Raptors are the same old crew that they have been. And for a team like that, the 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks will continue to be the gold standard.

The Mavericks notably rebuilt and tore down several incarnations of their team around Dirk Nowitzki until the team was finally able to surround Nowitzki with the right complement of players to score one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.

Whether anyone chooses to acknowledge it, the Cavaliers are vulnerable.

Entering play on November 19, LeBron James leads the league in both total minutes played (617) and minutes played per game (38.6). Of the players who will comprise James’ supporting rotation in the playoffs, the majority of them are players whose impact will be mostly felt on one side of the floor: offense. To this point, the Cavs have 10 different players averaging 20 minutes played per game—an incredibly high number. More than anything else, that’s a result of Tyron Lue playing with his rotations to figure out which units work best, while also taking into account that the team has been playing without both Tristan Thompson and Derrick Rose for long stretches.

Still, of those rotation players—James, Rose, Thompson, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver and Jeff Green—the simple truth is that it is only James who has performed like a true two-way player.

It’s a troubling trend upon which the Raptors—and other teams in the conference—could capitalize.

The best two words to describe the Cavaliers to this point in the season are “old” and “slow,” and that’s simply a fact. The club still ranks dead last in points allowed per 100 possessions and 28th in the league in points allowed per game.

In short, the Cavaliers, at least to this point, have certainly appeared to be vulnerable. It is those same Cavaliers that have ended the Raptors season each of the past two years.

You know what they say about third times—they’re often the charm.

* * * * * *

There’s obviously a long way to go, and any chance that Toronto would have to get past the Cavs rests in the ability of Lowry and DeRozan to find some consistency in the playoffs. Still, as the complementary pieces around them have slowly improved, we have spent the early goings of the season fawning over the brand news teams and storylines in the conference and have paid no attention to the old guard.

And depending on how the brackets play out, any Cavaliers foray in the conference finals might have to go through the familiar road of Toronto.

If that happens to be the case—if the Cavs do have to square off against their familiar foe—they’re ripe for the picking.

Just as they have been over the past few years, the Duane Casey’s team will be there waiting for their opportunity.

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