If you could clone anyone on the Blazers who would it be?
If I had asked you that two weeks before the trade deadline what would you have said? LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are probable answers just on talent alone but if you looked at the depth chart it would be tough to pass up an extra Wesley Matthews or Nicolas Batum for the second unit.
Well, that's basically who Olshey got as Arron Afflalo is a slightly worse Matthews clone going through a Batum like shooting slump.
Take one look at Afflalo's stat sheet and the first thing that jumps out is the difference between this year and last year. In Orlando, Afflalo was absolutely scorching, knocking down almost 43% of his three point attempts and leading the Magic in scoring. Since then, he's been pretty average, shooting a paltry 34% from deep and putting in less than 15 a game. There's lots of reasons for this drop but the most important is very simple.
Afflalo is missing a lot of open shots.
Looking at his shooting percentages on uncontested shots, it's clear there aren't any fundamental issues at play. Last year, Afflalo shot 48% and 50% on "open" and "wide open" threes, courtesy of NBA.com. A shot is considered "open" if a defender is between 4-6 feet from the shooter and "wide open" if the defender is even farther away. This year, those numbers are down to 34% and 33% respectively.
Considering he's a career 38% shooter, it's unlikely Afflalo will continue throwing up bricks and he'll have plenty of opportunities to bust out of his slump. Many people predict that Afflalo will get better looks when he's a part of Stotts' beautiful flow offense and here's a stat to really drive that point home. In Denver, about 60% of Afflalo's three point attempts were uncontested. In Portland, Wesley Matthews has enjoyed that same luxury on 87% of his attempts. Afflalo might not be in rhythm now, but I'm sure once he walks a few games in Matthews' shoes he'll get real comfortable.
The transition should be easy because Arron is already proficient at moving along the arc, searching for space and a passing lane. He is constantly engaged, moving up and down the weak side feeling out that sweet spot.
*Apologies for the video quality. Didn't have my trusty sidekick for this one.
Afflalo is on the weakside, but he's leaning and ready to read the play. Once his defender goes to help, he moves up the court to increase his space and give himself time to get the shot off. Someone still needs to threaten and collapse the defense but Afflalo will make sure he's ready to take advantage of every opportunity his teammates create.
All that shooting stuff will take care to itself but Stotts' offense requires wings to do a lot more than just put it up. Think about how many times a game Wesley curls around a down screen or Batum runs a pick and roll with Lopez after a swing. Each guy needs to be able to dribble into the lane and read the defense in order to keep everything flowing. Afflalo might not be a pick and roll savant, ranking below average according to Synergy Sports, but he's almost on par with Matthews and is capable of at least dribbling around the pick and getting himself a decent shot. Most of the time, this takes the form of a pull-up jumper.
We've been schooled by the NBA's intelligentsia to think that's a bad shot but not when you can hit them at a 50% clip. For all his struggles behind the three point line, he's having his best year in the mid-range and is one of the best in the entire league. As he gets older, he's attacking the rim less and less but that won't be an issue as long as his jumper continues to be automatic.
Afflalo can get to his pull-up jumper or he can bring you down into the post, scoring more efficiently than both LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews from the block, according to Synergy Sports. This versatility is huge asset, although it's really just a different way for him to get to the same shot - a mid-range jumper. Afflalo likes his turnaround fade away more than LA did during his first couple years in the league. He goes over both shoulders equally well and can hit it all the way out to fifteen feet.
This is particularly valuable in combination with Wesley Matthews because of all the matchup problems. More and more teams are playing two point guards or undersized shooting guards. If that ever happens when Matthews is on the floor, the team will typically switch the smaller player onto Batum, who has very little post game to speak of. Good luck trying that with Afflalo on the floor. With Wes and Arron playing together, teams won't be able to avoid the mismatch down low and it will be much harder for them to play smaller guards off the bench.
The one place Afflalo really shines above Wesley is scoring in isolation. He does it almost twice as much as Matthews and, while he's slipped a little this year, he was in the 92nd percentile last year, according to Synergy Sports. If you've been sensing a pattern, you can probably guess how Afflalo likes to score one on one.
Everything for Afflalo leads to a mid-range jumper. Many of his isolation moves are like psuedo post-ups where he'll just dribble into a defender, spin, and go into his fade away. It's pretty admirable how he developed one elite skill and then figured out a bunch of different ways to get to it so nobody can take it away. That midrange shot is great fit for the Blazers' offense and he should fit in seamlessly on that side of the ball.
Defense is where the Matthews comparison loses a little of it's validity. For starters, none of the high level metrics like Afflalo at all. Since his rookie year, he's never had a defensive rating below 110 and ESPN's real plus minus ranks him as the 53rd best defender at the shooting guard position, way below CJ McCollum who deservedly ranks 12th. Those numbers are devastatingly bad but luckily the eye test tells a different story.
If you listen to an interview with Arron Afflalo, the first thing that becomes apparent is the guy is hard working and focused. That extends to his defense as he almost always gives the effort and is consistently in the right place. Those two things can get you pretty far in the NBA and he's been known to rattle off beautiful plays like this.
Dang. This is a great example of all the various responsibilities wing defenders have and Afflalo executes them flawlessly. First he steps into the lane to help contain Parker. Then he stays in the lane to bump Splitter on the role and zones up, ready to fly out to either Duncan or Green depending on who gets the ball. Once Green gets the pass, he rushes out, prevents the three, and moves his feet to keep Green in front. Just textbook.
Unfortunately, Afflalo struggles to make this kind of play consistently, particularly with the most difficult parts of defense. This is true of everybody but it's tough to watch multiple closeouts like this one and not get annoyed, especially when you know what he's capable of.
Closeouts are hard. Maybe one of the toughest things in the game, but you've got to do them well every time if you're gonna contain offensive juggernauts like the Warriors or the Spurs at full force. Afflalo also struggles to stay connected to his man when chasing him around screens leading to open looks for good shooters. He's ok defending the pick and roll but can get caught up and often fails to keep his man out of the middle. These are all normal problems most defenders have in the NBA so it's probably fair to call Afflalo a solid defender but not a game-changing one.
The nice thing is the Blazers don't really need a great defender off the bench and, just like the offense, Afflalo should have an easier role on the Blazers. Since he'll always be playing with Matthews or Batum, Afflalo will get the easier defensive assignment for the first time in his career. He'll also have the benefit of some of the biggest and best coached big men in the league. Even being generous, it's tough to say Hickson, Faried, McGee, and the rookie Nurkic are even passable in pick and roll defense. It takes solid footwork, perfect positioning, and effective communication for a big man and guard to work together to defend the pick and roll. In Denver, often at least one of these things was missing from the big man.
You can see Afflalo jump to the left anticipating the screen to go that direction. Nurkic also goes on that side of the play giving Gordon a wide open lane towards the basket. I would bet a large sum of collectible stamps that Nurkic called that the pick was going to the left. Asik was pretending to set the pick on one side only to flip it at the last second, hoping he could confuse Nurkic who fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Afflalo won't have to deal with this kind of thing nearly as often since the Blazers have their conservative scheme down pat.
There were a couple guys available at the deadline that would have added new wrinkles to the team. Kevin Martin can still get to the line better than any of our current wings. Wilson Chandler or Jeff Green would have given us more flexibility to play small. But in terms of fitting in to what's already here, it's tough to imagine a cleaner fit.
Looks like Olshey might have done it again.
*All stats from basketball-reference.com unless otherwise stated.