It should be clear by now that the Bobcats have had a gaping hole in the depth of their roster for three seasons now – especially in the frontcourt. Until the arrival of Josh McRoberts at the trade deadline last season, it’s probably safe to say that you would’ve had to debate between Bismack Biyombo & Byron Mullens to decide who’s been the most effective big man in Charlotte for the past three seasons. Now, in steps Al Jefferson to fix a front court that has been trying to travel long distances on spare tires for far too long.
There’s the obvious improvement that Jefferson will bring to Charlotte – an actual threat to score the ball when thrown in to him around the block, something the Bobcats haven’t had since basically Emeka Okafor. So, we can go ahead and presume that Jefferson is the best center to ever play in a Bobcats uniform, and will go down as the best ever since the team will be transitioning back to the Hornets after this season.
Let me point out some of the pessimistic thoughts I’ve had about Jefferson in Charlotte, but then end positively, and give you the reasons for real optimism moving forward.
So, other than being a very crafty player around the basket offensively, what else can Jefferson bring to the court? Well, a ton if he’s able to steer away from the habits of being a bit of spider web when the ball is thrown to him – as to say he hasn’t traditionally been a great passer out of the post. Jefferson’s career high average in assist was the 2011-12 season at 2.2 per game – not great. Big Al had an Assist Ratio of 10.2 last season – that was good for 23rd among centers in the league. Considering the fact that every team’s scouting report before playing the Bobcats this coming season will be centrally focused on Jefferson, it’s going to be vital that he shares the basketball and makes the defensive double teams pay – this not only opens up the floor for his teammates, but it will also give him more high percentage chances to score if the defense feels like Big Al can beat them with the pass as well.
Jefferson’s Usage Ratio last season was 23.4 (6th among Centers) – if that stays about the same, or climbs this season then he’s going to have to become a more willing passer. There was simply more offensive talent in Utah than their will be on his new team, so you can rest assured that defenses are bringing double teams until Charlotte proves they can beat you with other players on the floor.
Last season, the Bobcats finished 29th in the league in Rebounding Ratio – 47.8. The arrival of Big Al may not help Charlotte as much in this category as some may be thinking. Since tearing his ACL in February of the 2008-09 season, Jefferson went from averaging around 11 RPG to never getting past 9.7 in a season since. The injury clearly affected his overall explosiveness as a player, but for someone who lacked athleticism in the first place, this clearly has kept Big Al glued to the hardwood since. Last season, Jefferson had a Rebounding Ratio of 16.3 – good for 19th in the league among Centers. He’s a top-10 rebounder on the defensive glass with a ratio of 25.9, but ghostly on the offensive glass at 7.0 (barely top-50).
Lastly, he’s got to become a more willing defender. Although Jefferson struggles in getting beat down the floor due to his frame, a large portion of that is also contributed to effort, or lack thereof. The Jazz were a pathetic 9.2 points worse defensively last season when Jefferson was on the court – that has to change in order for the offensive efficiency that Jefferson adds to not be compromised by his defense.
Again, likely the best frontcourt player that the city of Charlotte has seen since Alonzo Morning in the mid-90′s, Jefferson has a chance to change the script for Charlotte basketball – much the same way that Mourning did when he was drafted by Charlotte 2nd overall in 1992. One has to question just how motivated a player that’s 28 years old and going into their 10th year in league will be when coming to a bottom feeder such as the Bobcats, but Big Al stated back in the summer that the decision to come to Charlotte was “A no-brainer”.
At the end of last season, the Bobcats starting frontcourt of Bismack Biyombo & Josh McRoberts were averaging 14.1 PPG, combined. Now, with Jefferson, Charlotte will get a player who’s averaged 18.2 PPG for the past four seasons in Utah. The improvement is obvious – what makes his numbers even more impressive is considering that fact that Big Al is quite limited when it comes to athleticism. He’s got an old-school game that features a myriad of head and ball fakes to make defenders look silly in many cases. Jefferson was 49.4% from the field last season — he likes to operate in the mid-range area (15-19 feet) and last season he attempted 28.4% of his total FGA from this range – Big Al was 42.7% on 351 attempts. For the sake of comparison, LaMarcus Aldridge was 42.4% from 15-19 ft. in 389 attempts. Point being, Jefferson is quite respectable from the mid-range area.
There are few statistical categories of basketball that Charlotte was consistently respectable in last season, but Turnover Ratio was one of the rare positives – 13.2% of the Bobcats possessions last season ended in a turnover – good for 7th in the league. Al Jefferson led the entire NBA among Centers last season in Turnover Ratio at 6.6, and was 7th in the league among all players. So, Charlotte was already pretty solid at protecting the ball and should only improve this coming season. This is an important stat to every coach in basketball for the obvious reason – you don’t shoot yourself in the foot and give the opposition extra possessions.
If the Bobcats have improved in offensive efficiency by adding Jefferson and also got better at limiting turnovers / valuing the basketball, then we could all certainly presume that the overall improvement could be accelerated – two very important categories.
Al Jefferson is without question the biggest free agent signing of this franchises history, but predicting how much better it makes this team immediately is hard to predict. The one positive factor that consistently runs through my mind is how much Jefferson can help the youth on this team improve – that was exactly the thought process of management leading up to approaching Big Al with an offer sheet. Charlotte is entering a season that is as important as any in recent memory as far as player development is concerned – Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo have to make strides in the correct direction this season. In some cases, very large strides. The hope is that Jefferson can aid in that development by becoming an expensive pressure release, in a sense, opening up the floor.