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Al Jefferson Chases The Money Into The Playoffs

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.”

The Eastern Conference At The Deadline

Thursday at the NBA trade deadline, we saw a total of 26 players, seven second round draft picks, and zero blockbuster trades. On Friday, we covered how the 10 players that ended up on West teams will shape the playoff race, and now we are looking at the 16 that were sent to the D-League…whoops, I meant the Eastern Conference.

While the Western teams made a few smart, calculated trades to improve depth (Steve Blake to the Warriors) and cut costs (possible buyout for Jason Terry from the Kings), the East had the biggest deals of the deadline. The East deals included the only two All-Stars dealt (Antawn Jamison and Danny Granger), the two best players (Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes), and the smartest player (Professor Andre Miller, PhD).

The Brooklyn Nets traded their disappointing – but playoff tested – guard, Jason Terry, for the Sacramento Kings' disappointing – and never played in a playoff game – guard, Marcus Thorton. Thorton, who once averaged 21.3 points per game, is a solid sixth man and capable of scoring in bunches when needed though he has struggled badly this season. He will likely provide relief for Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson down the stretch of the season. However, adding his extra $730,000 in salary means paying a ridiculous $3.3 million in tax, bringing their total to over $88 million on taxes alone…for a team that won’t get out of the first round.

The Cleveland Cavaliers traded for 76ers' center, Spencer Hawes. He will likely anchor their team right to where they were destined to be before they traded for him…the lottery. Hawes is a talented 7-footer who leads all centers in three-pointers made and percentage, is an elite passer for his position, a good scorer and rebounder, and a capable body on defense when he cares. Forced to play on a hapless Philadelphia team, Hawes had no reason to try over the past few months, but as he heads into free agency this offseason, expect his production to go back up for the Cavs. Despite the addition of Hawes and recently acquired Luol Deng, this team is unfortunately still coached by Mike Brown, suggesting they are likely doomed to miss the playoffs and then ultimately lose Hawes and Deng to free agency for nothing.

Professor Andre Miller, PhD left his classroom for winter break on December 30th and has been M.I.A. ever since. However, after being traded to the Washington Wizards, you can rest assured Professor Miller will be making a teaching once again. Miller, who was restless under indecisive rookie head coach Brian Shaw will be a capable backup behind John Wall, likely helping lead this Wizards team to homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Charlotte Bobcats made a good deal at the trade deadline. Say it with me: “The Bobcats did something right.” They traded valuable but redundant point guard, Ramon Sessions to the Milwaukee Bucks along with Jeff Adrian for Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal. Ridnour is a terrific backup point guard who can play behind or with Kemba Walker, while Neal is an outstanding shooter who won an NBA Finals game last season by scoring 24 points in 25 minutes!

In the only move that might affect the NBA Finals this season, the Pacers trading former All-Star forward, Danny Granger to the 76ers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. Turner is a do-it-all forward who has fallen out of favor league-wide because he has failed to live up to the hype of a second overall pick. Turner should play with the first unit as well as anchor the second for the Pacers. His ball handling will allow George Hill, Paul George and CJ Watson to get free and take uncontested shots while giving them insurance –albeit expensive at an $8.7 million qualifying offer or whatever long-term offer he receives – in case Lance Stephenson leaves in free agency. Additionally, Allen started in the playoffs only two seasons ago and is a capable big man off the bench. Most importantly, Larry “The Legend” Bird signed off on this trade, thus, it must be great.

The last set of trades involved the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks. Each team gave up players that weren’t part of their future and received cash, second round draft picks, and laundry service for a year in exchange for helping another team out. The Heat traded Roger Mason Jr. and cash for a pick they will likely never see in order to open a roster spot for Caron Butler (Tuff Juice wants to go home!). The 76ers, who were involved in a league-high four deals during the trade deadline ended up with five second round draft picks and five players that won’t be buying property in Philadelphia. Finally, the Hawks acquired Antawn Jamison from the Clippers and enough cash to take him out to a nice dinner before buying out his contract.

Compared to the four West teams that made a deadline deal, eight of the top ten Eastern franchises made a deal with only Chicago and Detroit remaining inactive. Whether this reflects the fragility of the Eastern Conference standings (5th place through 11th is separated by just 5.5 games), or the strength of the mighty teams in the West (3rd place in the East would be 10th in the West) is anyone’s guess. With that said, all these moves outside of Indiana and Miami are moot because none of them are making the Eastern Conference Finals.

Indiana Pacers Vs. Miami Heat, Round III starts May 20th – Get ready, America!

The Fix: Charlotte Bobcats

- “Fix It” is a series that shows how each NBA team has the potential to improve, focusing on how team success can be built over the long-term instead of simply year over year. The ultimate goal is to create a team capable of winning consistently for a decade. 

The soon to be Charlotte Hornets entered their tenth season in the NBA with a historical record of 250 wins and 472 losses. They have finished no better than fourth in their division in any of those seasons and their only playoff appearance resulted in a sweep by the Orlando Magic. This is the season that it pays off to be as bad as the Bobcats, yet they invested over $60 million this offseason in multi-year contracts to Al Jefferson, Gerald Henderson and Josh McRoberts. This team has been as bad as you can be (literally set the record for lowest winning percentage in a season in 11-12), but continues to invest in the wrong players and wrong coaches (three in three years). Let’s hope that their luck changes when they become the Hornets.

The Good: While most of this team’s transactions have been shortsighted (trading Tyson Chandler for Erick Dampier); they could potentially have three lottery picks in the most loaded NBA Draft in a decade. They’re owed the first round pick of the Portland Trail Blazers if it falls outside of the top-12 selections, and the Detroit Pistons' if it’s outside of the top-eight. With three lottery picks or even three in top-20, they could make huge strides towards respectability and maybe even the playoffs in 2015. These picks, while not guaranteed, give the Bobcats’ fans some hope. This draft represents the team’s best shot at grabbing a star player that they have so desperately wanted (and needed) since their inception in 2004.

The Bad: They could potentially have zero lottery selections in the most loaded NBA Draft in a decade. Both Portland and Detroit’s selections are protected so not guaranteed to go to Charlotte, but more importantly, their own selection will go to Chicago if it lands outside of the top 10 picks (this due to another shortsighted trade for Tyrus Thomas, yes, the one that they amnestied). With a roster that contains very little talent, no history of winning, and their third coach in three years, there is little to be excited about. 

The Fix: The Bobcats need to do what they do best, lose games. They have every reason to want to increase their odds at landing a top selection in the 2014 NBA Draft. While they do this, it would be in their favor to sell some players not in their long-term plans. While trading Jefferson and his $41 million contract would be tough, Henderson just signed a reasonably affordable contract (three years, $18 million) and could be a viable sixth man for a playoff team looking for a spark off the bench. Trading productive players is typically not a smart move, but when your goal is to lose and build for the future, it’s a good decision to lose anyone being too helpful. McRoberts, Ramon Sessions, Jeff Taylor, and Bismack Biyombo are all candidates to get moved on this team.

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