Al Jefferson may be a part of something special with the Jazz.
by Tracy Weissenberg / @basketballista
Al Jefferson last made the Playoffs in 2004-05 with the Celtics during his rookie season. Boston was where he began his career before being traded to Minnesota in the 2007 deal for Kevin Garnett. It was Celtics coach Doc Rivers who first compared him to Hall of Famer Moses Malone.
“Doc Rivers was the first one, ever said that to me about him,” says Jefferson, “My second year in the league he asked me did I know who Moses Malone was and I was like, I heard of him. So he gave me a DVD of him and I still have that DVD to this day…I watched him and I was like, Wow, I could see myself in a great player like him. It was a great compliment to be compared to Moses Malone.”
Jefferson averaged 20.1 points and 10.4 rebounds during his three seasons with the Timberwolves before the Jazz acquired him in a trade this offseason. While Jefferson will be counted on to fill the void created by the departure of free agent forward Carlos Boozer, his style will add a new dimension to the offense.
“We’ve never had a guy like Al since I’ve been here,” says guard Deron Williams, “A guy that you know you can just throw it down to on the block and he can go to work and get baskets. Carlos Boozer definitely could get buckets on the low block but he liked to step out and had a little bit of finesse to his game. Al’s just, he can get down there and bang, go to work.”
Jefferson hopes to pick up where Boozer and other Jazz big men left off. “This offense has done many wonderful things for big men…Karl Malone, Hall of Fame, Carlos Boozer had some great years here so I’m just trying to keep it going,” says Jefferson.
On adjusting to the system, Jefferson says, “It’s a lot of reads in this offense. It’s a lot of counter moves and stuff so that’s one of the parts that I’m kind of struggling at. But it’s still early, you know they wouldn’t expect for me to come in and learn their offense quick as I would like, but they’ve been real patient with me, helping me out big time.”
Forward Paul Millsap says, “Our offense is pretty tough. You got to know when to make your cuts, know when to slip, know when to just be in the right position.”
“It’s a lot, man, it’s a lot to handle for a guy that’s coming in learning a completely different new offense,” says Millsap.
Despite a learning curve, Jefferson sees potential for the evolution of his game within the Jazz’s system. “This system is made for a game like mine is. I’m a old school type of player, I’m a back to the basket type of guy and it’s made for that,” he says.
In his first season with the Jazz, the team has begun to form an identity through a string of comeback wins. On being able to erase double digit deficits, Jefferson says, “It just showed that we don’t give up. It showed that when we down, we don’t put our head down and give up…This team, they never stop fighting. Coach Sloan won’t let you stop fighting.”
On playing for Jerry Sloan, who has coached the Jazz for 23 seasons and amassed over 1,000 wins with the franchise, Jefferson says, “It’s wonderful. He’s a great coach who knows the game, who has been doing this for a long time. I think I was three years old when he first started coaching here and it’s a reason why he’s been a winning coach for so many years.”
Jefferson has viewed the Jazz objectively the last six seasons and now has an insider’s perspective during his seventh. Asked what he believes the team needs to do to get to the next level, Jefferson says, “I just think we just gotta have that mindset like we had when we down 18 at the half. Like we just go out and just don’t give up and just continue to play hard cause we have enough talent here to do it. Of course we got to get past the Lakers, what team in the West don’t? But with this talent and team that we have and the coaching staff, it could be done.”
One thing Jefferson will not miss is a long summer vacation. “Oh yeah, I got tired of going home in April,” he says, “April the 15th for the last five years…so it feels good to have a chance, have a chance to make the Playoffs.”
While Jefferson has put up numbers in the past, it looks like he has the chance to be part of something special with a resilient Jazz group. Millsap says that when he came into the league, “I just realized I had to wait my turn. It’s just about opportunity and being patient.” I’m sure Jefferson feels the same way.