The New York Knicks took a low-risk, if questionable gamble this offseason when they signed Arron Afflalo.
Needing depth on the wing, they gave Afflalo a two-year, $16 million contract that, while not overly exorbitant, seemed like a stretch given Afflalo’s 2014-15 season.
Afflalo was a near-All-Star in 2013-14 with the Orlando Magic, averaging 18 points, three rebounds, and three assists per game while shooting 46% from the field and 42% from three.
He was dealt to the Nuggets in the offseason where he then struggled. On the surface, Afflalo’s numbers looked fine — 14 points per game, three rebounds, 43% shooting, 34% from three. However, it was lowest scoring average in four seasons and his worst shooting average since his rookie year in 2008.
Afflalo was traded mid-year from the Nuggets to the Trail Blazers, where he was a mess on the floor. Afflalo shot just 41% from the floor, and had a -37 net rating in the playoffs — the worst of any Blazers player. After being acquired to boost their offence and perimeter defence, he was basically unplayable in the postseason.
After several solid years, with All-Star consideration in 2013-14, Afflalo’s regression was highly disappointing.
When the Knicks gave Afflalo a $16 million deal in the offseason — with the second year being a player option — it was met with scepticism. Sports Illustrated gave the signing a C+, saying there was no harm in it, but likely not much reward either. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton said he projected Afflalo to be a below-replacement-level player the next two years.
However, through Sunday’s games, Afflalo now looks like one of the smartest signings this past offseason. His averages of 15 points per game with three rebounds on 50% shooting, 35% from three are at or above his career averages, and his value on the floor is irreplaceable for the Knicks. Afflalo has gotten particularly hot over the last five games, in which the Knicks are 4-1, averaging 20 points per game on 56% shooting, 43% from downtown.
With Afflalo on the floor, the Knicks are outscoring opponents by 2.5 points per 100 possessions, the best mark on the team. While that’s not a massive number, it is significant on a 14-14 team with a negative net rating as a whole.
When Afflalo is playing, their offensive rating jumps several points from 100.6 to 106.6. Perhaps most impressively, with Afflalo off the court, their offensive rating falls to 95.8 points per 100 possessions. To put it in other terms: with Afflalo on the court, the Knicks are scoring at the rate of the third-best offence in the NBA; when he’s off the court, they’re scoring at the rate of the second-worst offence in the NBA.
A huge part of Afflalo’s game has come as a post-up scorer, as Posting and Toasting’s Seth Rosenthal notes. Afflalo has been incredibly efficient as a post-up scorer, averaging 1.2 points per possession, shooting 62% on post-ups — fourth-best in the NBA.
He’s made a living of taking smaller players into the post on mismatches, as he does here to Cavs guard Mo Williams.
Or to Rockets guard Patrick Beverley:
What makes Afflalo even more valuable is the price at which he came to the Knicks. Though Afflalo wasn’t the most valuable wing player on the market this summer, his contract looks paltry compared to the $70 million Khris Middleton got from the Bucks and Wesley Matthews got from the Mavericks, the $60 million DeMarre Carroll got from the Raptors, or the $40 million Danny Green got from the Spurs.
Again, Afflalo wasn’t on their level of play last season, but he’s now making about half of what Middleton, Matthews, and Carroll make. Thus far, he’s averaging more points per game and shooting better from the field than all four, rebounding at the second-best level, and producing the second-most wins, according to Basketball Reference.
The Knicks didn’t have the splashiest offseason, but they made a few solid, under-the-radar signings, and none look smarter than Afflalo’s. If the Knicks can get back into the playoffs in the suddenly competitive Eastern Conference, Afflalo will be a big reason why.
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