Last season, Jordan Farmar was the best freshman at UCLA. This season he's the best sophomore. Everyone knows that. Jordan Farmar is also the Bruins' best guard. And the Bruins' best player. He's their All-American candidate. This is all common knowledge. So here's a little insider tip, something you can use to impress your friends:
No, he's not.
|Arron Afflalo, who averages 18.8 points, doesn't get the attention he deserves. (Getty Images)|
Here's another insider tip, something you can use to impress your friends:
Afflalo, a 6-foot-5 sophomore shooting guard, has overtaken Farmar and damn near everyone else out West. Not that Afflalo seems to care about that. He says he's not competing with Farmar, and UCLA coach Ben Howland says he's not lying.
"Great kid," Howland says of Afflalo. "He could care less about that stuff."
Here's what Afflalo has to say about the perception that he's Robin to Farmar's Batman.
"That's just the way things work," he says. "Jordan had a very good freshman year, and I think he deserved everything he got. He's still getting the aftermath of that, and he's still playing well. I'm definitely not out to prove I'm better than him. If anything, it helps me. People coming out to watch him, whether it's NBA scouts or average fans, they're going to see me. And we're winning, which is the only thing anybody cares about."
Indeed, UCLA is doing that. The year before Farmar, Afflalo, Josh Shipp and Lorenzo Mata arrived, the Bruins were 11-17 overall, 7-11 in the Pac-10. Last season, with Farmar averaging 13.2 points and 5.3 assists and earning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, the Bruins reversed their records -- 18-11, 11-7 -- and reached the 2005 NCAA Tournament.
This season, even with the worst rash of injuries in college basketball and a loss Saturday to No. 13 Washington, No. 11 UCLA (14-3) is off to its best start since 1995, the year of its last national championship. Farmar's again playing great, averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 assists. But Afflalo's playing better -- better than almost anyone in the West. After Gonzaga's Adam Morrison, a frontrunner for national player of the year, Afflalo belongs in the Best of the West conversation with Washington's Brandon Roy, Nevada's Nick Fazekas, Cal's Leon Powe and Arizona's Hassan Adams.
Afflalo averages 18.8 points and shoots 52.2 percent from the floor, 39.3 percent on 3-pointers and 80.8 percent from the foul line. He's also his team's best defender, joining Washington's Bobby Jones and Arizona's Chris Rodgers among the Pac-10's best. Afflalo doesn't do it with steals. He doesn't gamble like that. He just plants his body between the basket and the other team's best scorer as if to say, "Whatever you average, you're not getting it today."
The exception came last week when Washington State's Josh Akognon, whose ridiculous tear already had earned him the previous Pac-10 player of the week award, scored 25 points ... in the second half. UCLA won that game 63-61.
More typically, Afflalo bottled up Temple's Mardy Collins, Nevada's Marcelus Kemp, Michigan's Lester Abram, Stanford's Dan Grunfeld, Arizona's Hassan Adams and Washington's Brandon Roy. Those five players went 25-for-76 from the floor (32.9 percent) against Afflalo, averaging 12.2 points. Afflalo, meanwhile, put up 19.2 ppg. And UCLA went 5-1 in those six games.
"It's the coaches I've had," he says. "I've had three coaches my entire life -- AAU, high school and college -- and they're all disciplinarian, defensive-minded coaches. Also it's a pride thing I have in myself, and for UCLA."
Howland's biggest problem with Afflalo is his shot selection: Afflalo doesn't select enough of them. Given his shooting percentages, Afflalo needs to be attempting more than 12 field goals and 4.3 free throws per game. Although he averages roughly 19 ppg, his season-high is just 23. He has been consistent, but not dominant.
"They've been telling me I need to get more aggressive," Afflalo says. "We've had all these injuries and I've been efficient, so they want me hunting my shot more."
If that happens, Afflalo will burst from the bushes like a covey of quail.