When Al Jefferson signed a three-year, $40.5 million contract with the Charlotte Bobcats last offseason, everyone figured he was simply following the money with his third and potentially final big NBA contract. It was obvious to anyone that Jefferson was signing with whomever paid him the most, especially with the Bobcats having gone a combined 28-120 record over the past two seasons.
Even though Jefferson was snubbed of an All-Star berth, he has certainly been worth the contract individually and in making the Bobcats a playoff team. After starting the season rocky—missing nine of the first 12 games thanks to a severely sprained ankle—Jefferson has averaged 21.7 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 blocks in 68 games this season.
While the Bobcats score an average of 96.7 points per game this season, Jefferson accounts for 22 percent of those teams’ points—almost a quarter of their total points.
Jefferson runs 52.3 percent of his offensive plays via his bread and butter post-up moves. His skilled footwork and touch around the basket enable him to score effectively and with ease. He shoots at a 50.3 percent field goal clip when relying on his post-up and converts at a highly efficient 0.96 PPP rate per Synergy Sports. It doesn’t take too much game tape footage of Jefferson to realize he is one of the most underrated centers in the game.
After winning a 96-94 overtime thriller over Cleveland—squandering any little playoff hopes the Cavs had—Charlotte is fresh off clinching a playoff berth for the second time in their brief franchise history.
“I thought this could happen for us if we worked for it,” Jefferson told the Associated Press. “I couldn’t tell you when I signed that we were going to be here in a playoff run, but I knew that if we locked into what coach wanted us to do and committed and dedicated ourselves to this team, that we were going to have a chance.”
Charlotte currently sits as the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference with a 39-38 record with five games left and one game back of Washington for the 6th seed. Steve Clifford has been instrumental in changing the culture of the Bobcats franchise. With a defense first approach, the Bobcats rank six in points allowed per possession.
Coming full circle back to Jefferson, he has never been someone that scouts and analysts have dubbed as even having much of a defensive presence throughout his career. Clifford recognized that Jefferson was never an elite defensive clog hence focusing the teams’ defense on protecting the interior, relying on scramble zone rotations to force extra passes which increased the opponents’ chances of turnovers. With young athletic swingmen in Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and even Gerald Henderson, it allowed Clifford to have them scramble all around the court to help on defense easier.
Bleacher Report featured columnist—Dylan Murphy—describes the effect that this sort of defensive scheme has on Jefferson best.
“While this puts a lot of pressure on the guards, it does a great job of utilizing Jefferson’s lone defensive advantage: his strength. By shrinking the court and allowing the guards to handle the perimeter, Jefferson only has to concern himself with battling bigs down low.”
Recently, the Bobcats' PR team put together a website to campaign for Jefferson’s All-NBA Team bid. Not at all misleading since Jefferson akes 59.6 percent of his shots within the paint and converts 59.2 percent of those shots. A pretty creative campaign put together for a small market team that falls to generate much buzz around the league.
Fresh off winning the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Jefferson sees big things coming for the Bobcats not only during these upcoming playoffs, but also when the team officially changes to the Hornets.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Jefferson tells the Boston Herald. “But we can be one of the elite teams in the East.”