The elephant in the room regarding Al Jefferson’s 3 year, $40.5 million contract is obviously the big man’s defense. He will score in abundance, he will grab a ton of rebounds, and he will make everyone better on the offensive side of the ball.
But on defense? Well, as of right now, he’s a liability. A defensive liability who is currently coached by, and working closely with one of the best defensive centers of all time in Patrick Ewing.
By his own admission, Big Al is bad at defense. Like, really bad. Bad enough to keep one of the league’s most productive centers without a single All-Star appearance.
Courtesy of Grantland, Jefferson had this to say about his defense:
“It ain’t no secret around the league that I struggle with my defense. My pick-and-roll defense is my weakness. And that’s mind over matter. I just gotta suck it up, get my ass out there, and do it.”
At least he’s honest. And while I would love to source the quote, I can’t find the article where Al said something along the lines of, “oh crap, here comes the screen, get ready!”
Jefferson hit the nail on the head about his own defense… he’s a fairly athletic big who can stick with his man when there’s no deception involved, but when it comes to screens and pick-and-rolls, Jefferson borders on uselessness.
If a fellow center or a PF tries to power into the paint, Jefferson is significantly less bad at guarding that player. He can contest those shots, and block a few. But when deception is part of the picture, Jefferson just doesn’t quite know what to do.
All of that being said, you really should read the article I linked you to earlier about Patrick Ewing. It’s no secret that Jefferson is the best post offensive player in basketball, and that he can rebound and even pass out of the double team fairly well, so Jefferson is very close to being a complete player, if only his D could be upgraded.
There aren’t many better than Ewing to help.
At 28, Jefferson is certainly a vet in the league, but he’s in his prime, and still has a long time before he starts to drop off. There’s still time to teach the old(ish) dog new tricks.
Jefferson has never had a coach like Ewing to help him on defense. In fact, the entire coaching staff is geared towards defense, so it’s a safe bet that Big Al is at least learning how to spot pick-and-rolls and other deception plays before they happen, so he can get into position. He’s made it clear that he wants to get better at defense, and there isn’t a better coaching staff in the NBA to make that happen.
Further, Brendan Haywood can also be of value to Jefferson. Haywood was never a scorer in the league, but he was once one of the most feared defenders in the game, and if Al picks his brain, Haywood will gladly pass his knowledge on.
Recently, Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons previewed Charlotte’s season. While they were a bit on the negative side, and didn’t mention a lot of the positive things going on in Charlotte (and in fact, made fun of the beautiful city itself), the preview did give a few interesting tidbits.
Aside from the hilarious prediction by Jalen that Michael Jordan will suit up for the Bobcats once this season, he did make a much more possible prediction regarding Al Jefferson: He’ll lead all centers in scoring, and he’ll be second to Dwight Howard in rebounding. He’s predicting a 22/11 season for the big man. That’s a return to his Minnesota Timberwolves form, and, quite frankly, totally possible.
He is the real deal when it comes to scoring and rebounding. He’s actively working on improving his defense, and doing it from some of the best in the league.
If Al can become even a mediocre defender in the league, he should make his first All-Star team, and the $40.5 million contract the Bobcats/Hornets hurled at him will seem a little less gaudy (even though I think it was a fair contract).
Stranger things have happened.