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Arron Afflalo Pushes Trail Blazers to Legitimate Contender Status

The word parity is a word that has rarely been used when describing the NBA. This season has hopefully changed that. Golden State is the only team with a winning percentage over .800, while Atlanta and Memphis are the only two others above .700. But you can’t forget about the other title contenders as well: Toronto, Dallas, Houston, Cleveland … the list goes on and on.

In the most hectic deadline in NBA trade deadline history, some teams took a leap of faith in hopes of elevating their team to legitimate contender status.

The Portland Trail Blazers were one of those teams.

The Blazers sent Will Barton, Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson and a protected first-round pick to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Arron Afflalo. Portland is hoping the acquisition of Afflalo will add some scoring punch off the bench and put them “over the top.”

The Blazers didn’t lose much in this deal. Robinson has been nothing but a trade chip his first three years in the NBA after being selected fifth overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. He has visibly struggled in his short career and hasn’t shown much improvement in his three seasons.

Some teams may still believe in Robinson’s potential because of his youth, and if he found some stability, it might reveal his true potential. The Nuggets wanted to give Robinson that chance by waiving him and giving him a better opportunity on a better team, but the Philadelphia 76ers swooped in and claimed him off waivers after it looked like the power forward was headed to the Brooklyn Nets. Counting the Nuggets, the Sixers will be his fifth team in three years.

Like Robinson, Barton and Claver aren’t big losses. That trio combined to average 9.0 points and 7.3 rebounds with the Blazers this year, so while Portland may have given up three players in the trade, they were three guys who didn’t contribute much.

By acquiring Afflalo, Portland adds someone who’s itching to get back to the playoffs. It has been three years since he has last been there, but in that time, Afflalo has gone on to prove that he can be a high volume scorer, averaging a career-high 18.2 points in his final year in Orlando. Afflalo has struggled this season, averaging only 14.5 points on 42.8 percent shooting, but he still was the second-leading scorer on a struggling Nuggets squad.

Adding Afflalo brings in some much-needed depth to the Blazers bench. Portland is ranked 29th in the league in bench scoring, only ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers. (Even despite this deficiency, Portland’s record is still 36-19.) Steve Blake, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Barton were the main guards off the bench behind starters Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews before the trade, but by putting Afflalo into the mix, it allows the Blazers to utilize a second-unit combo of Blake and Afflalo. The hope is Afflalo can alleviate some stress off Blake, who is only shooting 37.1 percent from the field, allowing the offense to flow and be more efficient with shots.

There’s obviously a learning curve when trades like this happen, as chemistry is always a variable that must be accounted for. In Afflalo’s Blazers debut against Memphis, Portland grabbed a comfortable 13-point lead heading into the fourth quarter before succumbing to the Grizzlies’ comeback effort. Defense was an issue as the Blazers surrendered 34 points in the fourth after scoring 39 of their own in the previous quarter.

However, Afflalo was one of the shining lights in that loss. Although he only scored eight points on 2-of-6 shooting, he grabbed four rebounds and recorded a steal in limited time. (23:32) Afflalo was also one of three Blazers to record a positive plus-minus, notching a +16, second on the team to Chris Kaman’s +21.

Oh, did I forget to mention that star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge missed the game because of a sprained thumb? That didn’t exactly help the Blazers against the tough Grizzlies squad.

After practice Tuesday, Afflalo spoke about finding a rhythm with his new team (via Blazers.com):

“It’s tough, man. You want that dream story and you want to hit the ground running and be successful. But it may take a few games just to really get a good rhythm.”

Whenever that time may be, Portland will officially be on title watch. Aldridge’s health is an issue, but as long as he can protect his thumb, Afflalo will be the X-factor for Portland’s championship aspirations. The Blazers have been flying under-the-radar somewhat, but they have the opportunity to make some serious noise in the postseason with a healthy roster. If that happens, the trade deadline deal for Afflalo will be one of the reasons why.

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