Arron Afflalo delivered for the Orlando Magic in a big way Friday against the Charlotte Bobcats, hitting a three-pointer with 7.4 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to force overtime in a game his club went on to win. But after a strong start to his second Orlando season, Afflalo has found such sweet moments becoming more infrequent as the season draws to a close.
"I had a good first 50 games of the season, so to speak," Afflalo said following the victory. "I haven't been that impressive in the second half of the season, but I'm just trying to maintain and close out as strong as possible."
The seventh-year swingman has a point: through his first 34 games, he ranked among the few NBA players to average 21-plus points, four-plus rebounds, and four-plus assists per game. To these eyes, he merited an All-Star selection despite Orlando's poor record because of his efficient, productive, and steady play. But in his last 30 appearances, however, he's looked more ordinary, posting averages of 16.9 points, three rebounds, and three assists per contest.
A change in Orlando's priorities may have had some bearing on Afflalo's numbers: when one reporter asked him if he's had fewer plays called for him recently as opposed to when the season began, he cracked a smile and offered a good-natured "yeah." Nevertheless, his approach remains the same.
"[I'm going to] allow these guys to flourish a little bit," Afflalo said regarding his younger teammates. "I'll kinda evaluate myself during the summer and I'll be a much better player next year."
There's little reason to doubt him on that point: the Compton native has increased his scoring average in each of his NBA seasons. Given his sober, even-keeled approach to the game, it's little wonder he's able to make such reliable progress year over year.
"It always feels good to have good moments," Afflalo said in reference to his game-tying trey. "Stuff like that never gets old. But in terms of my happiness, I'm more of a big-picture guy."
The addition of Victor Oladipo, the emergence of Kyle O'Quinn, and the continued growth of Nik Vučević have made the big picture in Orlando come into sharper focus over the 2013/14 campaign. But as Afflalo says, "there are still some realities to our situation." Even after Friday's win, Orlando still owns the league's third-worst record and looks several years away from seriously contending for the postseason. That's Afflalo's goal.
"I think you'll see the real growth of the franchise and the team when we're truly competing for championships and winning more on a regular basis," he said, ever mindful of the bigger picture.