Charlotte Hornets: Give Big Al the Ball!


Give Big AL the Ball!

Why is it that Al Jefferson, the Charlotte Hornets best free agent signee… ever, at least in the Michael Jordan era, seemed to become invisible to teammates during long stretches of the game?

In the contest last night against Miami, as the offense was imploding in the fourth quarter amid some horrifying possessions that ended in ill-advised long Gary Neal jump shots, or Lance Stephenson driving into five guys, Al Jefferson stood repeatedly calling for the ball, with the veteran undersized Udonis Haslem guarding him.

So why did Neal, Stephenson, and the rest of the team not give him the ball? He exists just for those moments, when the team struggles to get good looks. His post-ups are the best way to slow down a game and put an end to the helter-skelter runs a team like Miami can induce.

Is it Steve Clifford, or Gary Neal?

Once Kemba Walker came back into the game, things settled down, Al even got a couple of post-up opportunities, and eventually the Hornets would win the game. However, by the time Walker got things under control, Chris Bosh was back in the game and guarding Jefferson, rather than Haslem.

Haslem is 6′ 8″, while Bosh is seven feet tall. Jefferson could have had a field day with Haslem guarding him, but instead it was Gary Neal chucking up jump shots that sometimes missed the rim.

So who is at fault here? In his reserve role coming back from the groin injury, Jefferson did not play big minutes, but most of the minutes came with the second unit. That is the ideal time to run Big Al down on the block and feed him until he is tired and ready for a rest. Especially with reserve big men going against him.

I have to believe that is what Steve Clifford wanted from Jefferson in his first game back. So then what were Neal and the others doing?

Al Jefferson Is Still Your Best Player

On offense at least, Jefferson is still your best option. This team should be running the offense through him whenever he is on the floor. When he comes out of the game, then go ahead and get creative.

Per, Jefferson this season is shooting over 62% when he is within three feet of the rim. So obviously, your offense should revolve around getting him the ball close to the rim. I hate to beat a dead horse, but again, this is especially important when the second unit is crumbling and you have the elderly Udonis Haslem trying to stop Big Al.

Gary Neal, Playmaker

In 16 minutes last night, Gary Neal had one assist, even though he played a long stretch as one of the primary ball-handlers along with Lance Stephenson.

Neal this season is averaging about three assists per 36 minutes, so that was actually even worse than this normal numbers. His shooting made up for it, as he went… 0-4 from three point land? Oh, and he is shooting below 30% for the season?

I know that Neal was not brought in as a playmaker, but if he is going to continue to shoot so poorly, he needs to learn to pass the ball. Maybe he cannot drive and dish like some of the other great NBA point guards, but he can certainly get a good entry pass into Jefferson and play a Derrick Fisher on the Lakers kind of role.

Basically, Neal can feed Jefferson and then spot up in easy sight of Big Al for any open threes that become available. At one time, before coming to Charlotte, Neal was a good shooter. So maybe if he has a wide open look, he could knock it down. Rather than the pull-up airballed three point shot we all witnessed last night.

Please Gary, no more of those.

Jannero Pargo is Coming Back

CBSSports, via the Charlotte Observer, reports that Pargo is practicing with the team again:

"Hornets guard Jannero Pargo has begun practicing with the team, but he is unlikely to play in Wednesday’s game against the Heat, reports the Charlotte Observer."

So maybe Neal felt the pressure to have a big game, knowing that Pargo could be there to take some minutes from him. Perhaps that lead to the ill-advised pull-up airball that elicited a groan from the stands.

If so, then Neal may have actually done himself a disservice by launching that shot, as it just added to the poor bench performance and his own terrible game.

Next: Bismack Biyombo: Hornets' Defensive Savior