Arron Afflalo seemed in position for a starring role when he arrived in Orlando via the Dwight Howard trade in 2012. He endured a poor shooting season and failed to become the Magic’s clear No. 1 option last year, but now he’s finally broken out. The 28-year-old has lifted nearly every phase of his game, averaging 19.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per contest this year, all career highs. He’s making 42.7% of his three-pointers, and his PER of 17.6 is his first of more than 14.7. All those numbers add up to an indication that he’s finally living up to the five-year, $38MM deal the Nuggets gave him in 2011.
He’s worth more than the $7.5MM salary he’s set to receive through the 2015/16 season if he can maintain his production. He shot better than 40% from three-point range in three of his previous six seasons in the league, so his touch isn’t likely to go away, in spite of last year’s 30.0% long-range accuracy. He’s seeing 14.9 shot attempts per game, only 0.8 more than he took last season, when he scored 16.5 PPG. His assist numbers have steadily climbed over the last five years, though his increased rebounding could merely be a product of needing to muck in for a Magic team that’s declined from 14th in the league in rebounding percentage last year to 25th this time around, per NBA.com.
In any case, it seems like Afflalo, still on the right side of 30 years old, is primed to continue to play at or near the level that made him a candidate for the All-Star team this year. He’s putting up his numbers on the second-worst team in the league, but he’s doing so efficiently, suggesting that his stats aren’t simply a product of his surroundings.
GMs around the league reportedly think there’s a strong chance those surroundings will change soon. Afflalo is perhaps among the most valuable trade assets on the market, according to Chad Ford of ESPN.com. The Magic are nonetheless batting down offers, making it difficult to ascertain just how highly they value him, as Ford wrote in this week’s chat. Teams have held the belief that they can indeed persuade Orlando to trade Afflalo, but GM Rob Hennigan is driving a hard bargain.
The Magic and Clippers talked about proposals involving Afflalo and Eric Bledsoe before L.A. dealt Bledsoe to the Suns, and maybe Hennigan regrets missing out on Bledsoe, who’s blossomed into a star for Phoenix in his first season as a full-time starter. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to land an up-and-coming talent quite like that for Afflalo now, unless that sort of player comes as a future draft pick. The Magic already have three extra first-rounders headed their way in the next several years, so relinquishing their leading scorer for yet another might not be appealing.
Perhaps Hennigan could find another undervalued young player as he did last year with Tobias Harris, who edged out Afflalo for the Magic scoring lead last season after coming over from the Bucks. Hennigan dealt away J.J. Redick in that trade, months before Redick signed with the Clippers for four years and $27.755MM, so the Magic know how to find value for a well-regarded shooting guard. Perhaps there’s another deal to be had with the Bucks, who could use the infusion of a fringe All-Star entering his prime if they hope to return to the playoffs next season. Still, Milwaukee appears to be hanging on to its young players this time around, and unless its stance on buy-low candidate Larry Sanders changes, Hennigan will have to look elsewhere.
The Cavs are in free-fall, and while many of their recent first-round picks have underperformed, maybe interim GM David Griffin will be willing to swap one or more of them if the team is still intent on making the playoffs this year. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is high on Dion Waiters in spite of the trade rumors that surrounded the former No. 4 overall pick this year, but if the Cavs can turn him into Afflalo, it would give Cleveland an upgrade, at least for the time being. If Hennigan could convince Griffin to throw in Anthony Bennett, the Magic would have the top two picks from the 2013 draft.
The trick in identifying undervalued assets is you have to see what others don’t. If Hennigan feels confident about a player on another team who would be available, he could put his skills of talent evaluation on full display, but the safer, and seemingly more likely, choice is to keep Afflalo through the deadline. There’s no urgency to trade him, since the Magic aren’t going anywhere this season and he’s not on an expiring deal. Removing him from the roster in exchange for a developing player or two would weaken the Magic in the short term and give them a better shot at the No. 1 overall pick in June, but they aren’t having trouble losing games. The idea is not to carry those losing ways into the future, so Hennigan need not overplay his hand with Afflalo, an asset on the rise.