Arron Afflalo: Evaluation Evolution

Not sure I can say that Arron Afflalo is a steal at 8.6 million per year. But I do believe he represented a different way of thinking about basketball efficiency, a different way of finding value–far beneath the box score sediment. To appreciate his output, you had to hug a subversive notion of what “good offense” could mean. Or as Henry explained it:

“Afflalo wastes very little of his teammates’ talents. When he catches the ball he quickly swings the ball to the open man if there is one, he takes the jumper if he’s open, or if there’s a lane to drive, he thunders to the hoop. Whatever happens is fast and it usually features one of his teammates shooting. As a result he is, as Hollinger, says, the fourth or fifth option offensively. Perfect.”

An offensive possession is a collaborative act, but it suffers if too many participants clumsily, well, participate. I envision basketball offense as a frenzied SNL-ish writers room in the midst of creating a series of vignettes (possessions).

There are two consistent voices at the table, geniuses who often direct the action, and inform its vision. There are two less consistent voices, adequate writers who generate many ideas (shots). Sometimes, they pitch bad ideas before a genius can conjure a better one. In the rush, many of their bad ideas become television vignettes that thud before a shrugging audience (failed possessions). Too many of these can mean a lost night, and too many lost nights will wreck a season.

Writer Arron Afflalo does not speak up when he has a bad idea. Actually, he rarely speaks in general. Often, he merely directs the room’s attention to someone who has a better idea, usually via a soft mumble. But in certain moments, if he has an incisive joke or bowel-kinking scene twist, he’ll sagely intone the goods.

So if Afflalo is this kind of writer, then which NBA player is the other kind? Henry could offer one particular person in mind:

“It’s easy to imagine a more skilled player like Jamal Crawford could do more to help a team get buckets. Would your team score better with Crawford or Afflalo on the floor? Crawford surely has far more scoring talent, but Afflalo’s the guy who led the NBA’s best offense in minutes played last season.”

Jamal Crawford. He won’t shut up in the writers room. And while some of his ideas are dazzling displays of inspired mania, many other pitches amount to inscrutable smoke pouring out a mad man’s ears.

In the past, this show producer would be quite enamored with Crawford. Jamal’s blaring whimsy would evoke “Hunter S. Thompson” to a boss who only noticed surface-level activity. This same boss would glean that Afflalo didn’t speak very much. Sure, Arron had good ideas, but how often? Not enough to justify a continued salary when Jamal Crawford so obviously needs a raise.

I’m framing my analogy in the past tense, because this could be a new era. Non-writer Jamal Crawford recently got a two year, ten million dollar salary–a paltry sum compared to Afflalo’s 43 million dollar deal. Though research has shown that a player’s salary is often dictated by his scoring totals, the market just got paced by the understated efficiency of Arron Afflalo, Tyson Chandler, and Nene. Perhaps the show producer is spending more time analzying the writer’s room. Perhaps he’s noticing the aggregate value in Arron’s moment-picking.

Though it punctures my sense of basketball snobbery, I am delighted to see props given to those who used to toil magnificently in the opaque obscurity of non-box-score activities. But: Where is this headed? Steinmetz asks a valid question when he inquires after whether Afflalo is a steal at such a hefty price.

At what point does smart become the new stupid? At what point is James Dolan sacrificing fortunes before the altar of Ekpe Udoh, and ditching Amare to pull it off.

I was so caught up in how hidden players like Afflalo were. It just seemed so outlandish for conventional wisdom to trundle in their direction. There is a dopamine thrill to seeing the net shimmy–especially after an improbably slung shot. I always figured that the emotional pull of scoring would trump any dreary explanation of what matters and why.

Today, I’m at a loss to gauge the value of people who are defined as being undervalued. Others could have trouble with the trend and misinterpret its message. Get ready for someone to oafishly assemble a Team of Afflalos. Get ready for an idea-bereft show.

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