[Note: Originally Posted 08-12-2009 at 07:13 PM by DenButsu]
There has been a lot of talk in the PSD NBA Forum about the Nuggets “getting worse” because they lost, among other players, Dahntay Jones. And with that, there have been some people trying to make the case that Arron Afflalo is not an upgrade over Jones.
Those people are wrong. And this is where I’ll tell you why.
So here they are, the main reasons why Arron Afflalo is a significant upgrade over Dahntay Jones for the Denver Nuggets:
1. Afflalo is a better defender. This just really needs to be re-stated and made clear. Because it’s true.
Jones’ reputation as a tough defender got vastly overblown as a result of the Hornets series. Yes, he did a very nice job against CP3. But something very important about that has been overlooked: It wasn’t only him. He had the benefit of having Denver’s big men backing him up very solidly when they switched on P&R’s (which, if you watch the Nuggets at all, you’ll know they do on nearly every possession). Those 3 – K-Mart, Nene, Birdman – all did a stunningly good job of staying in front of Paul when Jones switched off him. Probably the most under-recognized strength of the Nuggets front line is how their combined athleticism allows them to operate in tandem defensively to deny penetration by even some of the league’s quicker guards fairly consistently.
If you don’t believe this, then watch this video which is precisely about the Nuggets defending CP3. (Clip 1: K-Mart involved in the trap, clip 2: Johan Petro breaks through the screen to cover Paul and give Jones a chance to recover, clip 3: K-Mart denies CP3 the drive allowing Jones to recover and then denies it a 2nd time forcing Paul to put up a 3, clip 4: Jones not in the play, but it’s another example of the big backing up the guard who’s covering Paul). Sure, that’s a small sample size of possessions, but if you watched the DEN-NOH series you’ll know it’s very representative of what actually was going on, which was much more of this, and not much of Jones locking down CP one-on-one. The best thing he did individually was probably just to get inside Paul’s head, but when it came to the basketball being played, it was really much more a team effort that slowed Paul down than what Jones did by himself (a much more praiseworthy individual effort achievement came from Kenyon Martin who did in fact completely shut down David West pretty much all by his lonesome).
If it seems like I’ve spent too much blog space writing about the specific scenario of Jones guarding Paul, it’s only because that supposed “CP3 shutdown” is the centerpiece of his reputation as a defender in the NBA. Before last season, he was a total nobody in that regard. But moving on to the Mavs and Lakers series, both Anthony Carter and J.R. Smith (yes, J.R. Smith) played defense consistently better than Jones against the likes of Jason Terry, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, etc. The Nuggets coaching staff was well aware of this, as Jones averaged 20.6 minutes in the New Orleans series to 16.6 against Dallas and 15.5 against Los Angeles, when by all appearances his services should have been required the most. But the thing is, Jones ain’t exactly the Kobe stopper.
And more importantly, let’s look at the overall results of the regular season:
In 48 minute production as shooting guards, both Dahntay Jones and Arron Afflalo were pretty lame offensively, with 10.0 and 10.8 PERs respectively. When it came to opponent PERs, however, it was not even close. Dahntay allowed his opponents to play at a PER of 19.0, while Afflalo held his opponents to a commendable 13.6, resulting in net production at a -9.0 PER for Jones and a -2.6 PER for Afflalo. In other words, this means that while Afflalo is correctly rated as a solid defender, Jones is badly overrated as a solid defender. He was the worst player in the Nuggets active rotation, quite probably the worst starter in the NBA last season, and is quite simply not the lock down defender that somehow he has been made out to be.
2. Afflalo is an offensive upgrade over Dahntay because his skill set will be more beneficial to the Nuggets system and roster.
This one’s pretty simple, really. While replacing Jones with Afflalo might seem to be just a lateral move offensively, since neither player has an offensive game that’s anything to write home about, it all comes down to spreading the floor. Last season, Jones (to the amusement of Nuggets fans) shot .647 from beyond the arc, which would be incredible if it weren’t for the fact that it was on 11/17 shooting – for the entire season. In no way, shape or form is he a legitimate 3-point shooter, or a perimeter threat that defenses must respect. In fact, just 5% of Jones’ shot attempts were 3s (he attempted just 0.2 per game, and 0.4 per 36 minutes). Meanwhile, 36% of Afflalo’s shot attempts were from downtown (1.4 per game, 3.4 per 36 minutes), and he made them at the very healthy clip of 43/107 for the season, a .402 percentage.
All of this, in combination with the shot selection statistics below, confirm the notion that Dahntay attempts little outside of dunks, layups and short range jumpers while Afflalo brings a wider variety of looks to his game – and delivers them better from further away from the basket:
Jones – Shot selection Shot Att. eFG% Ast'd Blk'd Pts Jump 50% .398 64% 7% 1.7 Close 38% .496 54% 20% 1.6 Dunk 10% .853 76% 6% 0.7 Tips 2% .125 0% 0% 0.0 Inside 50% .550 60% 17% 2.4 Afflalo – Shot selection Shot Att. eFG% Ast'd Blk'd Pts Jump 76% .474 77% 4% 2.9 Close 22% .621 46% 8% 1.1 Dunk 0% 1.000 100% 0% 0.0 Tips 1% .500 0% 0% 0.1 Inside 24% .620 45% 7% 1.2
The biggest knock on Afflalo’s 3-point shooting and overall offense is inconsistency, but it’s clearly demonstrable from these stats that he is a far more consistent scorer from a greater range of looks than Jones is. Fans of high drama may miss Dahntay’s occasional explosive, athletic dunks, but fans of the Denver Nuggets won’t.
Because what we’re getting in exchange is a shooting guard who can actually shoot, at least pretty well. Aside from Denver’s help defense, another bit of cover for Dahntay that allowed him to get away with landing a reputation as a passable starter in the NBA was that he had Chauncey Billups to the left of him, Carmelo Anthony to the right, and J.R. Smith backing him up. He could get away with having a zero sum offensive game and being a total non-factor offensively because he stood on the shoulders of giants. In fact, his only offensive skills completely duplicated skills that Nene and Kenyon already possess, but execute with much higher efficiency: dunking, laying it up, and shooting from very short range. With Jones on the floor, Denver played a 4-man offensive game. And who paid the price for this? The other four guys, when opponents were able to collapse in the lane at will (Dahntay couldn’t pull them to the perimeter), constantly double or even triple Melo (a dish off to Dahntay would be a dead end), cut off the inside passing and cutting lanes (defenses knew they didn’t need to be very vigilant outside the paint). With Dahntay on the floor, putting points on the board became that much harder for Denver’s scorers.
So not only was Jones not a contributor on offense, he was a liability and a detriment because his presence on the floor made the job of opposing defenses so much easier – a factor which more than canceled out any positive impact he had as a defender himself (as seen by the PER stats above).
But Afflalo will be a different story. He may not be totally consistent, but he’s a solid enough 3-point shooter that the Nuggets’ opponents will not be able to afford to leave him unguarded as they did with Dahntay – and if they do, he will be in the position to make them pay for it with easy, open baskets. Afflalo may not be an offensive gamer per se, but he’s got enough to spread the floor, which is really the most important service he can provide given who his teammates sharing the court with him will be. And the extent to which this is an upgrade to Jones can really not be overstated.
3. Afflalo is 23, and improving, while Jones is 28, and he just finished the best season he’ll ever have in his career.
It will be all downhill for Dahntay from here on out. Why do I say that about him? Why would he not be able to replicate or improve upon what he did last season? Because, quite simply, he is a player of many weaknesses and few strengths, and the Nuggets were able to create for him the perfect storm of not needing to do anything but play up his strengths and abandon everything that would expose his weaknesses. With T.J. Ford and Danny Granger flanking Jones in Indiana, I’m sure the Pacers feel they can pull off the same feat. The main problem I see with that, however, is that Jones will not have J.R. Smith (ahem) “backing him up”. In Denver, Jones averaged just 18 minutes per game (quick, name an NBA starter who played fewer) and was effective to a degree specifically because he was not called upon to do too much, to exceed his abilities. Indiana will be calling on him to do more. Especially after giving him that 4-year contract and a raise to go along with it. So with due apology to Pacers fans, I’d be bracing yourselves for a season of Jones’ weaknesses getting badly exposed. (This is the lesson the New Jersey Nets learned when they also overpaid for defensive Nuggets role player free agent Eddie Najera, who Denver got the most out of in a similar way). At 28, I don’t actually think Jones has peaked in terms of his abilities. But I do think he has been stretched out by an NBA team to the very fullest extent of his usefulness, and that no other team will be able to get more out of him than the Nuggets got last season.
If it seems like I’m being overly harsh on Jones, well, that’s not my intent. To his credit, he works his *** off, he’s very disciplined in terms of understanding his role and not going outside of those boundaries, and in terms of having a rock solid work ethic. He’s somewhat of a veteran, he’s a genuine team player, and there are real reasons George Karl started him over J.R. Smith. His greatest assets are probably intangibles, and well, those are hard to write about. So I hope he does well in Indiana, I’m glad for him that he got his big payday with a long-term deal. Congratulations, Dahntay.
But as a Nuggets fan, I’m glad that Arron Afflalo found his way to Denver. I think it will be a better fit for him, and a better fit for the Nuggets. With Billups, Melo, Smith and Ty Lawson around, he won’t be under too much pressure. Basically, the Nuggets can plug him right into that “low expectations” Dahntay role, but with the greater dimensionality of his offensive game, and his superior defense, he should be able to execute in that role more effectively. And if he grows into it well, at his young age he could prove to be a very nice complimentary guard to J.R. Smith for years to come.
To fail to recognize Afflalo as an upgrade over Jones is silly, and to think the move actually makes the Nuggets worse is just downright ludicrous. Bill Simmons almost gets it:
Arron Afflalo, trade (Denver): Now this is how you run a team. You let someone else overpay Dahntay Jones (Indiana, $11 million, four years) and replace him with a short-term guy with the same skills (defense and 3-point shooting) for one-third of the price. I might dump Morey for the Wark (Denver’s Mark Warkentien) as my role-model GM soon.
Except for the facts, as stated above, that Dahntay actually could not shoot the 3 and AA is a better defender (so “the same skills” should be replaced with “much better skills”). Dahntay got a degree of mileage out of working his tail off, hustling, playing hard and tough, being in the perfect situation, etc. But I am sure we’ll see a real tangible improvement when we have a player doing the same job who actually possesses the skill set to do those things (and more) much better.
Okay, I rest my case. Please don’t make me write a blog about why Ty Lawson is an upgrade to Anthony Carter.