During the 2013 NBA offseason the then Charlotte Bobcats wanted to make a big splash in free agency. Since the franchise’s creation in 2004 there has never been a “wow” factor. No reason to stop whatever you are doing on a Friday night and head to the Bobcats game because there is a player you just have to see.
The closest thing the Bobcats ever had to a star player was Gerald Wallace. Wallace was a fan favorite and a hardnosed defense first player who would do whatever it takes to help the team. He was great to have on the team and a valuable NBA player, but he was not a star. More importantly he was not a “go-to” scorer.
To remedy never having that type of player Charlotte successfully lured Al Jefferson to Charlotte with a three year 41 million dollar contract during that 2013 offseason. At the time pundits said the Bobcats were overpaying a player that would only help them be good enough to just miss the playoffs. Most projections had Charlotte outside of the playoffs finishing in the 12-10 range in the Eastern Conference.
With tanking in vogue last season it was confusing as to why Charlotte would try to win the year before the strongest draft in a decade. Teams like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Orlando, and Utah were bottoming out, making their teams worse in hopes of landing the number one overall pick. Charlotte was sick of waiting for the lottery to solve their problems. They began building a foundation, and that started with Al.
The knock on Jefferson has always been that he does not play defense and that he was injury prone. It was hard to find someone at the time who thought this signing would end with the Bobcats in the playoffs, but that’s exactly what happened.
Al Jefferson came in and immediately legitimized this franchise. Whenever Charlotte needed a basket all Kemba Walker had to do was throw the ball into the post and watch big Al go to work. Every game he showcased a variety of spin moves, floaters, mid-range jumpers, pump fakes, and any number of tricks to help him get a bucket.
My favorite Al Jefferson move is when he methodically backs his defender down on the block then spins baseline quickly finishing with a right-handed floater before the defender even knows what happened. That move also has a variation involving a right-handed layup off glass which is just as pretty.
There is more where that came from. Also heavily featured is his exaggerated shot-fake that gets the defender off their feet so Al can glide to the rim for a finger roll. Jefferson also likes to palm the ball with his right-hand while putting his back into the defender, then quickly fake a spin baseline before turning back right for a floater in the middle of the paint. I could go on and on. If there’s a post move to be done Al has done it and done it well.
Jefferson is a throwback to a lost era of basketball. The game has evolved to the point where speed, athleticism, and strength dominate. Jefferson’s style of play would fit in during the 80s or 90s when centers were expected to have a variety of moves in the post. His game is similar to former Boston Celtic big-man and current Houston Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale. Pull up compilations on YouTube of McHale from the 80s and Jefferson from today. You will notice that their go-to moves are different, but the style of their play is the same.
For the season Jefferson averaged 21.8 points, and 10.8 rebounds per game on 50.9 percent shooting. It was the second best season of his career, and while he was snubbed for the All-Star team his performance was good enough to earn him third team All-NBA. His defense was not spectacular but he bought in to Steve Clifford’s team based defensive philosophy and was not the liability he had been in the past. He will never be a dominant rim protector but if he continues to play like he did last season Charlotte will be happy.
Most importantly Jefferson’s play helped the Bobcats capture the 7 seed in the East, earning them a date with Lebron James and the Miami Heat. Unfortunately the magic would run out for Charlotte early in the first game of the playoffs. Jefferson would suffer a torn plantar fascia that would render him ineffective the rest of the series. The injury is said to be extremely painful but he attempted to fight through the pain and play out the rest of the series.
By game four the pain would be too much and Al would sit out as Lebron and the Heat would finish off the sweep of the Bobcats. Coach Clifford said that had the injury occurred in the regular season Jefferson would have been out for weeks. It is remarkable that he even attempted to play through it at all.
Even with the playoff sweep optimism in Charlotte is higher than ever. The Bobcats have turned into the Charlotte Hornets thanks to a long awaited nickname change. The front office made another big splash by signing shooting guard Lance Stephenson, and also filled out the roster nicely with solid role players such as Marvin Williams, and Brian Roberts. The name change would have happened anyway, but I can’t imagine having a playoff run or landing another star player without the contributions Al Jefferson made last season. The future is bright, and one person to thank for that is Professor Al, Ph.D. in postology. The injury is all healed and Hornet’s fans cannot wait to see what he has in store for 2014-2015.