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Friday, September 30th, 2011 at 1:21 pm  |  31 responses

Top 50: Al Jefferson, no. 33

The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.

by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford

Runs the floor like a gazelle. Crazy athleticism. Can jump out of the gym. Stronger than a loud pack.

These are things that you will never hear when speaking about Al Jefferson.

Those adjectives better apply to Dwight Howard than “Big Al.” In fact, Jefferson is more Z-Bo than Superman. But in relation to Howard, the one thing Al does have in common with Dwight—besides turning pro straight out of HS while in the same class—is that when it comes to elite post-players in the NBA, they are simply two of the best.

While Howard may have more fame and notoriety to go along with slightly better numbers statistically, Jefferson has much better low-post moves and footwork and Big Al has quietly been putting in the same, if not similar work as Dwight throughout his career. And you know what he gets as a reward? He gets to lead the pack as one of the most underrated players in the NBA today.

When Big Al was a HS player in Prentiss, MS, I got a chance to watch him first hand on several occasions.

Initially I wasn’t all that impressed, but it wasn’t because of him as a player, it was because of the fact that he played in one of the smaller divisions in Mississippi prep athletics. And by small I mean with respect to the size of the schools within his particular division and also with respect to the size of the players he was competing against. Jefferson was easily the most dominating force because he was just that much bigger and by extension, better, than the other kids.

For example, when teams would full-court press Prentiss HS, the sequence would look like this: Jefferson would inbound the ball, run to half court, receive the ball again, pass it off to another player, run down to the low block, get the ball again, put his shoulder into somebody, turn and dunk on them. This happened every single time and oftentimes, the ball would never even touch the floor. He was the antithesis of the one-man press breaker, but the strategy was sound, and it most definitely worked.

Taking all of this into consideration, it’s easy to see how he was able to win the Mr. Basketball award, average 42 points, 18 rebounds and 7 blocks per game as a senior, and establish himself as the most dominating big man in the history of the Magnolia State since Othella Harrington came out of Murrah HS in the early ’90s.

So when he opted for the NBA Draft in the spring of ’04 instead of taking his game to Fayetteville, AR to play collegiately for the Razorbacks, my initial assumption was that against the best of the best, Al Jefferson would probably struggle.

Wrong!

His first couple of seasons in Boston he showed some flashes, but statistically, he was pedestrian at best. But by his third year in Beantown (’06-07), Big Al had transformed himself into a force to be reckoned with to the tune of 16 points and 11 rebounds per game. He was so good in fact that Minnesota traded Kevin Garnett to Boston for him in the summer of ’07.

OK, that’s not entirely true, but in essence, that’s pretty much what happened.

In Big Al’s first year in a Timberwolves uni in ’07-08, he upped his scoring average to 21 points per while still grabbing 11 boards. He wasn’t KG, but the fans in Minnesota appreciated him just the same. And much to the chagrin of many TWolves fans especially, he was snubbed on the Western Conference All-Star team that year.

You see, despite his individual success and better than average scoring and rebounding numbers, by the 2008 All-Star break, the Minnesota Timberwolves had logged just nine Ws and everybody knows that players on losing teams don’t get ASG nods, regardless of how incredible their stats are (unless your name is Kevin Love or Blake Griffin, but that’s an altogether different story).

The following season, ’08-09, Big Al was doing it again; this time to the tune of 23 points and 11 rebounds per. Despite it being a career year for him, he once again received an All-Star snub and a short time after the break (50 games into the season) Jefferson tore his ACL and his season was over.

He came back the for the ’09-10 campaign but both his rebounding and scoring averages dipped dramatically and you could just tell that he wasn’t the same player post-surgery. So in the summer of 2010, Big Al found himself traded once again. This time to the Utah Jazz who were trying to replace what they’d lost in Carlos Boozer who joined the Chicago Bulls via free agency.

On paper, it looked like a solid decision.

During Al’s first season in Salt Lake City, he improved his scoring and rebounding numbers ever so slightly from the previous year and appeared to be 100 percent recovered from his knee injury (evidenced by the fact that he played a full 82-game season for just the second time in his seven-year career). But because the Jazz also threw big money at Paul Millsap, keeping him in the fold, and then acquired rookie Derrick Favors in the deal that sent Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets, it was difficult for Jefferson to re-establish himself as a truly dominating frontcourt player because he had to either share time at or play out of his position which is something he didn’t have to do in Minnesota or his last year in Boston.

And unfortunately for Big Al, right now the Jazz are essentially in a state of rebuilding and who knows what’s next for him?

After losing Jerry Sloan midway through the season last year and DWill at the trade deadline, the Jazz missed the Playoffs for the first time in four years and Big Al personally missed the Playoffs for the sixth year in a row. To complicate things further, essentially, the team still has a rookie coach in Tyrone Corbin. They also drafted European phenom, Enes Kanter, who along with the aforementioned Millsap and Favors, plus a returning Mehmet Okur from injury, gives the Jazz one of the most crowded frontcourts in the entire NBA.

Decisions have to be made and Jefferson could very well find himself caught up in the dreaded numbers game and could potentially be moved for the third time in his career.

Of course this is all speculation, but if it does happen, know that Big Al is going to do what he’s always done since HS and now in the NBA: quietly put up numbers while nobody else is paying attention.

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Luol Deng Bulls SF 8
49 Andrew Bogut Bucks C 7
48 Ray Allen Celtics SG 9
47 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 6
46 David West Hornets PF 15
45 Kevin Martin Rockets SG 8
44 Andrew Bynum Lakers C 5
43 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 11
42 Lamar Odom Lakers PF 14
41 Gerald Wallace Blazers SF 7
40 Brook Lopez Nets C 4
39 Joakim Noah Bulls C 3
38 Carlos Boozer Bulls PF 13
37 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 12
36 Eric Gordon Clippers SG 7
35 Tony Parker Spurs PG 10
34 Andre Iguodala 76ers SG 6
33 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 11

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.

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  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    “stronger than a loud pack”. Ahh, yes. I’v been waiting for longest to hear someone use that reference.
    Good spot for Big Al but missing the playoffs for 6 straight seasons is further proof to him not being a go-to guy. He would make the perfect second banana.

  • http://blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami/2011/05/15/my-4th-annual-nba-no-defense-team-al-jefferson-monta-ellis-kobe-bryant-and-more/ nbk

    Thats was entertaining BC, good work. Except I would put him about 8 spots back.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    The Jazz are better off with him than Boozer, more healthy, can actually block shots and he had a solid season last year.
    I just wonder how having to share time with Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Memo Okur is going to affect his numbers.
    I mean, at least one of them cats gotta go, right?

  • http://slamonline.com Bryan Crawford

    Right, ‘Matic. That’s why I’m thinking if anyone has to go, it’ll be Big Al. If Favors shows anything remotely resembling future dominance, it’s going to be an easy decision to make.
    Kanter is the future at C. Okur has an expiring deal, Millsap makes $7M per and is more than capable of either starting or backing up Favors if it comes to that. So the odd man out on this one is pretty easy, IMO.

  • http://blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami/2011/05/15/my-4th-annual-nba-no-defense-team-al-jefferson-monta-ellis-kobe-bryant-and-more/ nbk

    Al Jefferson is the worst defensive Big in the league. He can block 2 shots a game all he wants, the Jazz are better with him on the bench. When he is sitting the Jazz give up 7 less points per 48 minutes, while only scoring 4 less points. Offensively Al is no joke. — Defensively, he’s a richard pryor act.

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Speaking of EKanter. I think dude has what it takes (skills, size, athleticism and strength) to become a great center. It would be interesting to see how the Jazz use him this season because they would be wise to give him a decent amount of minutes instead of languishing on the bench behind a player that’s not in their future plans.

  • http://redoftoothandclaw.ca/ niQ

    Damn, he averaged 42 points, 18 rebounds and 7 blocks per game as a senior? WOww…

  • http://slamonline.com LakeShow

    He seems like a 3rd option on a contender. IMO he would be a way better fit than Bosh in MIA. He is a pretty bad 1 on 1 defender, but he is a decent help defender.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    Still kinda dope they picked him up from Minnesota for just a 1st round pick and Kosta Koufos thanks to that trade exception.
    Speaking of which, did Cleveland and Toronto ever use their trade exceptions from the James/Bosh sign and trades?

  • http://blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami/2011/05/15/my-4th-annual-nba-no-defense-team-al-jefferson-monta-ellis-kobe-bryant-and-more/ nbk

    No he isn’t Lakeshow. He has no lateral quickness to be a good help defender. His knee blew up a couple years ago, and he was a bad defender before that.

  • http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop Allenp

    This is entirely too high. Dude hasn’t been the same since he blew out his knee. Before that, I had no problem with him and his lack of defense because he was a beast offensively. Now, his confidence is shaky and his offensive game is as well.

  • http://redoftoothandclaw.ca/ niQ

    @Enigmatic. Sadly, I don’t think so. Wasted.

  • http://redoftoothandclaw.ca/ niQ

    Actually, they were pretty close to getting a deal done. I think it was Tyson Chandler and Diaw for Calderon and the Trade exception. Tyson actually said he was excited to go to Toronto then we all know what happened next. Jordan veto-ed it, then Chandler gets traded to Mavericks and wins a chip.

  • http://slamonline.com datkid

    this is too high for him tho.

  • http://slamonline.com Bryan Crawford

    Al Jefferson, too high? No. Kevin Martin and David West were too high.

  • http://google c_cantrell

    I feel that this might be alil high for him, I’m anxious to see what he can do this upcoming season before I pass too much judgment tho.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    No, Joakim Noah is too high.
    That dude stays smoking the sticky icky.

  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    No David West being in the top 50 at all is ridiculous. And Kevin Martin is basically the SG version of Al Jefferson.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    I really hate most of this list so far…

  • http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop Allenp

    Al Jefferson was shaky last year, in my opinion. He had Deron frustrated with his inconsistency on offense, and disappearance on defense. He’s a bit of ball stopper too.
    I was a big fan before the knee injury. I thought he had the best post moves in the league outside of Duncan. But, when he blew out his knee, his confidence and timing got messed up, and all of his bad traits got magnified.
    In my opinion. Basically, I don’t think he’s better than Garnett.

  • http://sajkflf.com Jukai

    I woulda probably put him at 37… I may even take KG over Jefferson because of KG’s leadership, passing and defense negates Jefferson’s offense.
    BUT not a bad placement, if you think about it. In the 30s range, you’re just nitpicking if you want to move him 4-5 spots.

  • http://sajkflf.com Jukai

    Damnit Allen, I mean… I was just going to post that Garnett thing.

  • http://sajkflf.com Jukai

    The only person I really want to complain about is Brook Lopez, who I don’t think should appear anywhere on this list. Other than that, it hasn’t been terrible. I’m kind of upset. Nothing to whine about.

  • ctkennedy

    He should be between 45-50 …he dont get enuff wins

  • Shem

    Great spot for him in my opinion. Crazy to say this.. again, but I think he needs a change of scenery. Don’t like his position with Utah after losing a top 3 PG and a Hall Of Fame coach. Too many big men behind him as well so he might not be getting 35 mpg. Best landing spot for him would be Toronto or Atlanta at this point. Raptors seem better in my opinion as they have Dallas defensive coach Dwayne Casey, they could move Bargnani to his natural team and they simply have a young core looking up. ATL could offer Josh Smith and move Horford to his natural postion so we’ll see what happens.

  • Irfan

    I think he’s too high. He shouldn’t be ahead of Parker and KG or even Gerald Wallace. I don’t think he should have been higher than 45, 40 at most.
    So, you’re not having Scola in your top 50? =/
    That sucks.

  • http://www.jcolemusic.com Showtime

    Another foward that i would have put M.Beazy in front off..So big al better than Kg huh..Agree boozer nor david west or Big Al should be on this list this year..

  • Armando

    I’d still take both Bogut and Bynum over him (and a lot of the others on this list as well) as I believe you’re more likely to win with one of those as your primary big than Big (stat line) Al.

  • http://www.optimabbc.be Max

    Shem you would trade Josh for Al?

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    Al didn’t make ESPN’s top 50. He is somewhere between 51 and 56, and that makes WAY more sense then 33.

  • JJ

    He never passes out of double teams even at that point in his career and becomes a ball stopper at times on offense when he gets the ball. I personally think his style of play was the factor in D Will being shipped out. A pick and roll pg of his caliber with a primary post player who doesn’t pass don’t work well together.

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