Let’s be real, Big Al Jefferson isn’t exactly Hakeem Olajuwon or Dwight Howard in the paint. The 6-10 center has never been known for his defense, which is why you’ll probably be surprised to discover he finished in the top 15 in defensive rating (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) the last two seasons. So, despite his seemingly weak presence at the rim, Al’s defense has been improving. Watch out Dwight…
That being said, one of the reasons Al is pegged at 47 and not higher on SLAM’s Top 50 list is because he’s a fairly one-dimensional player. Despite posting solid numbers, Jefferson is not one of those rebounding machines, like Andre Drummond or DeAndre Jordan; and although his defense has gotten better, Al isn’t going to be competing for Defensive Player of the Year any time soon.
When it comes down to it, Jefferson is an offensive-minded, low-post, back-down center who lives on the left block. When that style of play shines, as it did in the 2013-14 season, Al is an All-NBA player. He averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds a game that year, shooting 51 percent from the field. On any given night, Jefferson can drop 30 and look virtually un-guardable. He can be a tough one-on-one cover who demands the attention of your entire defense. At the end of the day, there is just no doubting Big Al’s ability to get buckets.
Influenced by injuries in 2014-15 (missing a total of 17 games), Jefferson was not at his best—averaging 16.6 points and 8.4 rebounds. His shooting percentage, 48 percent, was the lowest it’s been in his career. More importantly, his PER dropped from an impressive 22.75 in 2013-14 (third among centers) to a disappointing 19.75. He just wasn’t the same player, plain and simple. Thus, it’s extremely difficult to gauge which Al Jefferson will emerge this upcoming season.
Exercising his player option over the summer, Jefferson proved to Charlotte fans that he was dedicated to their new squad. The front office team—led of course by Michael Jordan—has assembled a roster that has a realistic chance at making the Playoffs in the East this year. Notable new faces include Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin and ninth overall pick Frank Kaminsky. Adding those three to a core of Jefferson and Kemba Walker makes for a potentially dangerous unit.
When all is said and done, however, this team will go only as far as Big Al takes them. In order for them to be competitive night in and night out, the Hornets need their center to earn every bit of the $13.8 million he will make this year. If he can expand his repertoire, you’re looking at a guy who could be in the top 30 discussion. Hands down.
So, what will it be? In 2016, will we see a Third-Team All-NBA stud or just an average starting center on a team that falls short of the Playoffs for the second straight year?
Only time will tell. But one thing’s for sure, Jefferson’s offensive skill set, impressive track record, and potential for stardom definitely make him a Top 50 player.
|SLAM Top 50 Players 2015|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.