Top 50: Al Jefferson, no. 45

by Doobie Okon | @doobieSLAM

Player A: 18.6 pts/9.7 reb/1.8 ast/1.9 blk/49.6 FG%/76.1 FT%/35.9 minutes per game and started 100% of his games

Player B: 19.2 pts/9.6 reb/2.2 ast/1.7 blk/49.2 FG%/77.4 FT%/34.0 minutes per game and started 92% of his games

Who’s better?

Oh right, you can’t answer that because those are virtually the same stat lines for a regular season. Interestingly enough, SLAMonline ranks Player A at No. 33 and Player B at No. 45. Tell me how that makes any friggin’ sense, please. And no, I’m not telling you who No. 33 is—you’ll have to find that out next week. Player A was actually ranked 33 on last year’s Top 50.

Have you figured out yet that Player A (‘10-11) and Player B (‘11-12) are both Al Jefferson? Well I hope so, because apparently Big Al initiated decline mode this past season. And that thought is just ludicrous.

First of all, the stat lines for the two seasons speak for themselves. The only difference is that Jefferson only played in 61 games this past season due to the lockout, but as mentioned above, that was good enough for 92 percent of his team’s games. Other than that, all of the numbers in each category are in the same ballpark.

Now, I guess some people would have expected Jefferson’s numbers to distinctly improve in his second year with the Jazz, but it’s not like there was much to refine, at least offensively. For a guy who’s nearly 6-10, 290, his offensive game is electric. Capable of using the dribble and the shot-fake effectively in the mid-range and post, he can create his own shot like a guard. He rarely turns the ball over (1.0 per game) which is even more impressive when you consider that Big Al, along with his penchant for offensive moves, also really likes to dish. Jefferson has learned to utilize the passing part of his game more and more when facing the better defensive teams who know how to double him.

And I’ll tell ya one thing he did in 2012 that was decidedly better than anything he did 2011—Jefferson finally got his squad to the postseason. Although Al came off the bench for the Celtics in seven Playoff games back when he was 20, you could say 2012 was Jefferson’s first ‘real’ foray into the NBA’s grand second season.

And he didn’t disappoint.

His team sure did, but Jefferson performed admirably. Although the Jazz were swept by a torrid Spurs team, who at that time looked utterly impossible to beat, Big Al put up 18.3 points and 8.6 boards for the series, including 23 and 11 in Game 3 and 26 and 10 in Game 4. The Jazz didn’t make any huge moves this summer, so a little more continuity should have the Jazz eager to sneak into the Playoffs again in a tough Western Conference, and if they do, it’s pretty obvious who will be leading them there.

The guy is 27 years old and going into his ninth season. That’s youth and experience in one package. That’s called a prime. He has nightly 20/10 potential, takes care of the ball, and would boost any single NBA offense.

Yet, somehow, someway, Jefferson is dropping 12 spots this year, from 33 to 45. Okie dokie silly okio, I’m an idiot.

I seriously don’t get this one. I mean, sure, defense is a glaring hole in Jefferson’s game, but it always has been, so that can’t be the singular reason to drop Big Al so low. Even though Jefferson had one of this best years defensively last season, he’s never been the strongest man-up defender which renders him largely ineffective against the bigger centers. But it’s not like he’s an other-worldly awful stopper like, say, Brook Lopez. At least Al can rebound with the best of ’em and can swat some balls away in the paint.

An improved Utah team might even help Jefferson on the defensive side even more. Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors can certainly pick up the slack. Tyrone Corbin has a year under his belt and will be better suited to craft his team, which is essentially the same group from last season. Jefferson certainly has the opportunity to jump back into the top 35 with a stellar season and a couple Playoff series.

What this No. 45 ranking tells me is that Jefferson has proven much, but he still has much to prove. That he’s a very good center, but not an elite one. That until he shoulder’s a deep Playoff run, his talented, offensive game won’t be able to mask his status as a secondary star in this League.

At age 27, entering his ninth season, Big Al still has plenty of time to do just that.

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Greg Monroe Pistons C 8
49 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 14
48 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 13
47 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 12
46 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 11
45 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 14

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.