TrueHoop: Al Jefferson
ESPN Stats & Information
Below is a statistical look at some of the biggest moves made by those teams.
Key Addition: Josh Smith
Last Playoff Appearance: 2008-09
Smith has been a known commodity on defense in his career, but the success of his offensive game has depended on shot selection.
Win shares estimates the number of wins a player contributed to a team based off statistical performance, and can be divided into offensive and defensive win shares.
Since 2006-07, he ranks fifth in defensive win shares, trailing three MVPs and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard.
But which Smith will the Pistons get offensively?
In the 2009-10 season, Smith set career highs in field goal percentage (50.5) and offensive win shares (4.2). Smith attempted only seven 3-pointers that season, and as a result his average shot was a career-low 6.8 feet from the basket.
Since what was arguably his best offensive season, Smith has shot 46.7 percent from the field, averaging 2.1 3-pointers per game. His average shot has come 11.7 feet from the basket, and he has a combined 3.5 offensive win shares, including a minus-0.3 rating last season.
The Pistons averaged the second-most points in the paint last season (46.5 PPG) and could be a force inside with Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.
Key Addition: Al Jefferson
Last Playoff Appearance: 2009-10 (only appearance in franchise history)
With the acquisition of Jefferson, the Bobcats will have a major low post scorer for the first time in franchise history.
In 2008-09, Boris Diaw averaged 15.1 points per game while starting 55 games for the Bobcats at power forward. That’s the highest scoring average for a Bobcats power forward or center in franchise history.
Since leaving the Celtics in 2007, Al Jefferson has averaged 19.3 points per game, never dipping below 17.1 for a full season.
Jefferson does most of his damage inside as he was one of 13 NBA players last season to average at least 10 points in the paint per game.
The Bobcats averaged 38.6 points in the paint per game last season (24th in the NBA), with 6-foot-1 point guard Kemba Walker leading the team (6.6 paint PPG).
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Key Addition: Tyreke Evans
Last Playoff Appearance: 2010-11
Evans lost favor in Sacramento after winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2009-10, but he shot a career-high 47.8 percent last season and has the ability to score inside.
Since entering the NBA, Dwyane Wade is the only guard to average more points per game inside the paint than Evans, whose 9.8 points per game in the paint ranks 13th among all NBA players over that time.
If the Pelicans choose to hang onto Eric Gordon and bring Evans off the bench, he’ll help boost a bench unit that averaged only 10.7 points inside the paint last season (23rd) despite logging the eighth-most minutes.
Bobcats interested in Al JeffersonBy Chris Broussard | July 3, 9:50 p.m. ET
It's a poorly kept secret that several clubs are willing to "struggle" next season in hopes of winning The Andrew Wiggins Sweepstakes in next year's draft.
But the Charlotte Bobcats are not committed to taking that route. Hence, their courtship of free-agent center Al Jefferson.
Jefferson had dinner with the Bobcats on Tuesday night and spent much of Wednesday meeting with team brass, sources said. Jefferson is obviously interested, but he wants to wait and see how the Dwight Howard situation plays out before he signs anywhere.
Dallas might go hard after Jefferson if it doesn't land Howard.
Jefferson, who made $15 million last season, does not want to take a pay cut, and the Bobcats are weighing whether they want to offer anywhere near that figure. The 28-year-old Jefferson, of course, wants a four-year deal, and the Bobcats aren't sure they want to offer that many years.
To get to Jefferson's number, the Bobcats would have to exercise their amnesty rights on Tyrus Thomas and renounce DeSagana Diop, Reggie Williams, Byron Mullens and perhaps Josh McRoberts, whom they have some interest in keeping.
The Bobcats also hope to re-sign free agent Gerald Henderson.
Although his tenure with the Los Angeles Clippers is likely over, Chauncey Billups is having no thoughts of retiring. Billups wants to play two more seasons, and sources say he has been in discussions with several clubs, including Detroit.
At this point, all the interested teams are looking at the 36-year-old Billups as a backup, which he is fine with.
Although the Knicks are pursuing Elton Brand, they still have interest in bringing back Kenyon Martin. They are one of several teams that have had conversations with Martin. Others are the Nets, the Lakers, the Clippers and the Spurs. The Heat also inquired about Martin.
Number of teams now courting KorverBy Marc Stein | July 3, 10:37 a.m. ET
When free agency began, rival teams were pessimistic in the extreme about keeping Atlanta Hawks free-agent sharpshooter Kyle Korver from winding up in Brooklyn as the Nets' latest impact acquisition.
But the climate has changed. In a hurry.
It's the Nets wallowing in pessimism now, having conceded that they just don't have the financial flexibility to compete with all of the offers Korver is getting in what has proved to be a more robust market for wing players than expected.
The Nets can't offer Korver more than $9.6 million over the next three seasons after all of their recent moves. Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that the Milwaukee Bucks, for one, are pitching a three-year deal to Korver in the $20 million range.
"A number of teams," one source said, "are going hard after Kyle."
I've been reliably advised that San Antonio is firmly in the mix as well, but it appears, at this juncture, that Korver is still deliberating about his future and doesn't have a team picked out yet. That, though, hasn't stopped the Nets from basically conceding that Korver won't be picking them ... after one rival GM was convinced Monday that Brooklyn has him "in the bag."
ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard quoted a source earlier Wednesday as saying that the Nets "are out of the running" for Korver.
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty ImagesDerrick Favors, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap: The Supersize Guys.
Prior to the 2011-12 season, coach Erik Spoelstra sat down with LeBron James and told the world's best basketball player that for the Miami Heat to overcome the shortcomings that held them back during Season 1 of their grand experiment, James needed to assume a role that was more power forward than small forward.
James accepted this premise, even if he wasn't enthusiastic about it at first. But once Shane Battier joined the fold and took on the responsibilities generally associated with a power forward's job description, James flourished. He played closer to the basket and expanded his game. Though the effects weren't instant, as the season went on, James became more comfortable and the seas parted for the Heat's offense. The floor opened up, and on the first night of summer, the Heat hoisted the Larry O'Brien trophy.
Two weeks after the NBA Finals, players, coaches, execs and scouts were touting the end of traditional positions in the NBA as the grand lesson of last season. For most, that meant that it was time to go small and spread the floor with shooters, irrespective of their size.
But wait a minute. Why does the end of traditional positions have to always mean "going smaller"? What if there's an equally reasonable argument that going the other way, leveraging size against stretch, is also a revolutionary idea?
We present to you the Utah Jazz, a team that has played three big men -- Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors -- together for 30 minutes over their past two games.
As a small-ball enthusiast, I've been somewhat skeptical of Jazz coach Ty Corbin's experiment, but the numbers show that it's working for Utah, at least on the offensive end of the floor. Granted, we're dealing with a small sample size, but during the 38 minutes Jefferson, Millsap and Favors have shared the floor with two perimeter players this season, the Jazz have outscored their opponents 95-79. The Utah Supersize lineup has posted an eye-popping offensive efficiency rating of 137.0 points per 100 possessions.
What about the defense? Favors is lightning quick for a 6-foot-10 forward-center, but you could time Jefferson's speed with a calendar, and even though Millsap hustles on every play, he is not exactly fleet afoot.
The defense suffers. The Supersizers have recorded a defensive rating of 111.1 per 100 possessions, which would qualify them as far and away the least efficient defense in basketball (Cleveland currently ranks 30th with a 107.8 rating).
But let's get back to this prolific offense. How do the Jazz score at such an insane rate with three guys who have drained a combined nine 3-pointers this season?
- Not surprisingly given their size, the Supersize unit is killing it on the glass. It's Putback City -- their offensive rebounding rate is 30.8 percent (the league average is 26.2). Here's a telling example from the Jazz's game on Wednesday night at Boston. Millsap is matched up at the 3 against Paul Pierce. Jefferson launches a 15-footer from the right side. Jefferson's shot caroms off the rim, but Millsap has sealed off Pierce on the weakside glass. There's a fight for the loose ball, but Millsap ultimately corrals it. He takes a single dribble and then scores his easiest bucket of the night.
- The Supersizers are getting high-percentage looks close to the hoop, chalking up an effective field goal percentage of 63.5 percent. In that crazy three-overtime win over the Raptors on Monday night, the big three scored the first 17 Jazz points after regulation. To start the third and decisive overtime period, Millsap brutalized Dominic McGuire to set the tone. With the Toronto defense watching Al Jefferson on the left block (where else would he be?), Millsap muscled his way past McGuire, a small forward, and sealed him off with ease. A nice interior pass from Jefferson found Millsap for another easy 2. Small forwards can't contend with Millsap when he's loose on the baseline, and few teams can throw a third big on the floor without compromising their style or offensive firepower.
- Put three big men on the floor, and defenses have to account for it. You can't contain that kind of size by surrendering the middle, especially against a post threat like Jefferson, a space-eater like Millsap and a giant like Favors who must be kept off the glass. But by tilting your defense low to cover these guys, there's space on the perimeter for the shooters -- and these lineups have capitalized on that. In the 38 Supersize minutes, the Jazz are shooting a blistering 8-for-11 from beyond the arc. During a crucial stretch in the fourth quarter against Boston, Randy Foye drilled two big 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to keep the Jazz within shouting distance -- the first assisted by Jefferson, who drew the entire Celtics defense when he flashed to the foul line, the second when Millsap kicked the ball out to Foye after collecting (yet another) offensive board.
This Jazz Supersize lineup isn't in defiance of the new position-less NBA -- it's a flip side of the trend.
To a great extent, this is simply Corbin's attempt to keep his three best players on the floor, and the Jazz happen to be the only team in the league whose three best players reside in the frontcourt.
Utah has historically been a team that's flouted convention in favor of unique systems and counterintuitive solutions. This exercise is the most unique and most counterintuitive scheme in the NBA this season. It's certainly big.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Blake Griffin: Jet lag of an entirely different sort.
LOS ANGELES -- NBA players tend to be adaptable creatures when it come to sleep, capable of catching z's on cross-country charter flights and whenever else they can steal a few hours. The Los Angeles Clippers have even fashioned a prank called #GotEm (yes, that's a hashtag) around catching guys dozing off on the team plane.
Not-so-fresh off a week-long jaunt to China, the Clippers are having trouble adjusting to the 15-hour time difference, as GotEm has given way to a fierce battle of jet lag. Eric Bledsoe and Blake Griffin have found themselves awake at odd hours this week.
Whatever residual effects Griffin might be suffering after the transoceanic trip, few of them were evident in his performance in the Clippers' 96-94 win over Utah on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
Blake Griffin's opening quarter
Griffin unfurled the entire portfolio in the first period:
- With Al Jefferson in his mug at the right elbow, Griffin -- one of the better passing big men in the league -- zipped a bullet to DeAndre Jordan for a little high-low magic. A few minutes later, Griffin patiently waited out a double-team, spinning clockwise then counterclockwise. After a couple more head fakes and another round of pivots, Griffin somehow squeezed his big frame through the pickets to elevate for a sweet little hook shot.
- Next possession: He teamed up with Chris Paul for an angle pick-and-roll on the left side. Griffin rolls hard, drawing Utah’s entire help side defense. Paul follows in Griffin’s wake, then kicks the ball out to a wide-open Caron Butler for a perimeter jumper. I’ve long advocated for the creation of the screen-assist stat, and Griffin picks up one there.
- Next possession: Griffin sprinted the left side of the floor against a backpedaling Gordon Hayward. The easy shuttle pass from Paul on the move resulted in a flush.
- Later on, Griffin drained a 20-footer from the left side then, on the ensuing possession, rumbled down the floor coast to coast -- handle as tight as a nice Tumi expandable carry-on. Griffin spun through traffic and finished in Griffinian fashion to top off a 12-point, 4-rebound, 3-steal first quarter. Griffin finished the night with 23 points.
So much of being a frontcourt player in the Jazz offense revolves around moving from block to block as a screener and screenee. That constant motion demands precision and timing, a certain rhythm that can intimidate or confound a guy who has been accustomed to setting up in the low post, then awaiting an entry pass.
When the Jazz acquired such a player in Jefferson a couple of seasons back, there was some reasonable skepticism. Jefferson was a throwback, a tireless, hulking pivot man who owns the left block, starting and finishing his offensive possessions down there. It took Jefferson some time to adjust to Jerry Sloan's offense, a system that has remained very much in effect (with a few tweaks) under Ty Corbin, who succeeded Sloan in the spring of 2011.
Jefferson, who is in the final year of his contract, may or may not be in Utah this time next year (or sooner) given the embarrassment of riches the Jazz have in their frontcourt. Wherever Jefferson lands, he credits his time in the Utah system as essential to his maturation as a low post.
"Actually, the flex has really helped my game over the last two and a half years," Jefferson said prior to the game. "It's really helped me out big time. In Minnesota, it was all about fighting my way on the block. Throw the ball inside. Try to score against double-teams. With the flex cuts, it makes my job a lot easier. If I set good picks and get my teammates open, I bounce off that and now I'm the one getting the layup."
Systems matter, and Jefferson has not only learned how to pass out of double-teams but, as he alludes to above, he understands how to make himself useful when he's not the focal point of a set.
Second-year big man Enes Kanter is another big who isn't necessarily a natural fit in the flow of the Jazz offense. We're talking about a guy who recorded eight assists in 874 minutes during his rookie season -- a most unJazzly stat. But on Wednesday, Kanter appeared comfortable in the confines of the Jazz offense. Taking a cue from Jefferson, he got into a little crossing flex action along the baseline with Randy Foye in the second quarter and, voila, Kanter used the action to get a deep catch on the left block, which he converted with a nice fake to the middle, then a reverse pivot to a strong drop step and layup.
A little later he gave Jordan the treatment with an assertive spin and drive, drawing a foul. And like Jefferson, Kanter is gradually learning to look over his shoulder to the arc when the double-team arrives. He's also been a beast on the boards, a trend that started the instant he arrived in the league. Over four preseason games, Kanter is averaging 12.5 points and a hair over 10 rebounds in just under 20 minutes per game.
Kanter still needs to cultivate the reflexes and timing to flourish as Jazzman. Like Jefferson, he's not a perfect fit. But just as Big Al has used the system to expand his game and lure defenses away from Utah's weak side actions, so too can Kanter if he continues to put in the work.
Your Jeremy Evans moment
Jeremy Evans’ ceiling is an object of fascination among hard-core Jazz fans. He’s bouncy and rail thin, lethal on the break and can jump out of the gym standing still. On Wednesday night, Evans thoroughly embarrassed poor Ronny Turiaf, first by flying in from the baseline and swatting Turiaf’s face-up jumper from 14 feet, then by collecting the remains, dashing the length of the floor, then throwing down a tomahawk dunk on Turiaf, who had the temerity to actually run back on the play. The sequence set off a spark inside Staples Center among a crowd that's grown accustomed to some pretty hot pyrotechnics.
In fact, they are talking about practice
One theme you hear repeatedly in the preseason is that live games aren't nearly as vital to the process of preparation as a good practice. Jazz guard Mo Williams sounded this call before the game as he explained why he wouldn't play in Wednesday's game.
"Practice is more important than games right now," Williams said. "I haven't missed a practice. The games -- you go in there and play 20 or 22 minutes. I'd rather be in practice with my guys. That's where we're going to get better."
Moments earlier, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro cited the same rationale for sitting Lamar Odom. Del Negro expressed that he'd been pleased with Odom in practice, suggesting as Williams did that, for vets like Odom, games are afterthoughts. It's the practices, where schemes move from the whiteboard to the hardwood with repetition and explanation, that are the mother's milk of October basketball.
...except maybe Jamal Crawford
With the game tied 92-92 inside of a minute, the Clippers couldn't find anything off a Bledsoe-Turiaf high screen. After some meandering, the ball landed in the hands of Crawford about 28 feet from the hoop. Isolated against DeMarre Carroll with nine seconds remaining on the shot clock, Crawford used a crossover then a devastating hesitation move to breeze by Carroll to the rim for the layup, and-one.
The lead would hold for the Clippers and Crawford, ever the improviser.
- Classmates of Kim Jong Il's son, Kim Jong-un, testify that the presumed successor in North Korea wasn't all that interested in politics when he was at school in Switzerland. What really got him going was basketball. "He worshipped basketball players in the NBA. A friend who visited his apartment at #10, Kirchstrasse, Liebefeld, recalls that Kim had a room filled with NBA-memorabilia. 'He proudly showed off photographs of himself standing with Toni Kukoc of the Chicago Bulls and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. It is unclear where the pictures were taken. On at least one occasion, a car from the North Korean Embassy drove Pak Un to Paris to watch an NBA exhibition game,' the [Washington Post] said. In class, Pak Un was generally shy and awkward with girls, but he became a different person on basketball court, according to his classmates. 'A fiercely competitive player,' said classmate Nikola Kovacevic. 'He was very explosive. He could make things happen. He was the playmaker.'"
- Michael Pina of Red94 composes a stellar post on the psyche of trade bait. There are those, like Kevin Martin and Chauncey Billups, who take it a little personally. Others, like Lamar Odom, are driven to tears. Then there are Luis Scola, Rajon Rondo and Pau Gasol, who are able to convey detachment -- at least publicly.
- The Heat have pledged to switch up their offense this season by incorporating more fast-break attacks and putting more of a premium on spacing. Beckley Mason of HoopSpeak exchanges with a reader who explains what "the Invert" offense in lacrosse can teach us about defending the Heat.
- Charlie Widdoes of ClipperBlog feels the Clippers gave up too much for Chris Paul, and that staying the course with Eric Gordon and the salary flexibility that would've come with Chris Kaman's expiring contract was the right call.
- Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobili on the composition of the reigning champions in Dallas: "So where does that leave you? A short stint with a lineup where Lamar Odom is the primary ballhandler, employing Dirk and Marion as roll men with Delonte and Carter in the wings if the play goes sour? Does the team manage a point-by-committee sort of strategy? And who defends what? Dirk’s defense has gotten better over the years, but at this point Odom is essentially the best defensive talent in the Mavs’ big rotation. Do you cross-match Odom on the opposing center and hope he can draw them out of the paint? Do you keep Dirk at center and live with the terrifying defensive results? I really don’t know, and I’m not sure anyone else does either. And that’s part of what makes this Mavs team so interesting."
- Kris Humphries chalks up impressive numbers on the Wins Produced metric, prompting Andres Alvarez of Wages of Win to ask why the power forward remains unsigned.
- When Boris Diaw was growing up in France, his mom -- a former player -- ordered him not to join the throng of kids who'd storm the scorebook immediately after the game to tally their point totals.
- Watching Al Jefferson's deliberate but effective post game drives Zach Harper to thumbing through periodicals during live play, but Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams are shiny!
- The amnesty deadline passed and Rashard Lewis is still a Wizard. Lewis is setting up house in Washington, where his daughter has enrolled at nearby Sidwell Friends, where the Obama girls attend school.
- Who would you rather be -- the Lakers or the Clippers?
- Kevin Durant's fans will scour North America for his backpack like it's an afikoman.
He reached that plateau on his go-ahead field goal with less than one second remaining which broke a tie game and lifted the Knicks past the Memphis Grizzlies.
Over the past three seasons Anthony has proven to be one of the most clutch performers in the NBA. He has made eight field goals in the final 10 seconds of games in which his team was tied or trailing by fewer than three points.
Those eight field goals are tied for the second most in the NBA over the last three seasons. Anthony has been efficient as well, converting on 50 percent of those opportunities.
He is now 4-for-6 in such situations this season (1-for-1 with Knicks). Even more enlightening though is what other Knicks had done in these same type situations this season.
Other Knicks have combined to go just 1-for-7 field-goal shooting in such situations. Raymond Felton (1-for-2), Wilson Chandler (0-for-2) and Danilo Gallinari (0-1), the key pieces in the Anthony trade, struggled under those same conditions.
Elsewhere around the NBA:
• Al Jefferson did one half-second better than Anthony, as the big man’s tip-in buzzer-beater led the Utah Jazz past the Toronto Raptors. His 34 points were most in a game by a player with a buzzer-beater since Kobe Bryant had 39 on New Year's Day 2010.
Jefferson scored all 34 of his points from the field, going 17-of-24 from the floor. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Jefferson is the first player to score as many as 34 points in a game without making either a three-pointer or a free throw since the Rockets’ Hakeem Olajuwon scored 48 points (24-for-40 from the floor) in a loss to the Nuggets on Jan. 30, 1997.
• What else is new? Kevin Love extended his double-double streak to 52 games. He notched 10 points and 12 rebounds in the first half alone, the 14th time during the streak he recorded a double-double in the first half.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Heat are only the third team over the last 20 seasons to extend a winning streak of at least 11 games with a one-point victory. The Houston Rockets extended a winning streak to 14 games with a 94-93 win over the Orlando Magic on March 16, 1993; and the Boston Celtics beat the Philadelphia 76ers 100-99 on February 3, 2009 to extend a winning streak to 12 games.
Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh combined for 72 of the Heat's 95 points and over the last two games have combined for 156 of the Heat’s past 208 points (75.0 pct). After Saturday’s game, Miami’s “Big Three” is within striking distance of becoming the league's best three-man combination, a position currently held by the “Big Three” of the Celtics.
Elsewhere in the NBA, the Denver Nuggets handed the Minnesota Timberwolves their fifth straight loss. The lone bright spot for Minnesota was Kevin Love who scored a career-high 43 points while also grabbing 17 rebounds. Love became the third player in Timberwolves history to have 40 points and 15 rebounds in a single game (the other two were Al Jefferson in 2008 and Kevin Garnett in 2005).
Love has recorded 14 straight double-doubles and his total of 23 this season lead the NBA. Oh by the way, Love has an NBA-high 18 games of 15 or more rebounds; second on that list is Blake Griffin with nine.
More from the Saturday that was in the NBA:
• Two trades by the Magic
• Two OT games (Cavs-Knicks; Spurs-Grizzlies)
• Two players with 10 offensive rebounds; both also finished with 20-20 games (Dwight Howard, Zach Randolph)
• Two consecutive road wins for the Clippers (previously 0-11 on the road)
• Two teams with fewer than 90 points (Magic, 89; Bucks, 86)
• Four games decided by one possession (Heat-Wizards, Clippers-Bulls, Nuggets-Timberwolves, Trail Blazers-Nuggets)
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images Sport
Al Jefferson is watching, waiting and hoping big things will happen in Utah.
MIAMI -- The first thing Jerry Sloan told Al Jefferson when the big man arrived in Utah from Minnesota during the offseason was, "Don't panic."
"He said, 'We're going to throw a lot of stuff at you.' Just don't panic," Jefferson said.
That stuff is the infinite number of demands that Sloan's offense requires of its players.
Jefferson is a throwback post player -- a stationary force down on the left block. When he's been healthy, Jefferson's modus operandi is to call for the ball by raising his enormous right hand. He collects the entry pass, then unleashes his massive drop-step or deceptive up-fake to barrel his way to the rim. There's been precious little variance to that plan over the course of his career. Jefferson has an acute understanding of his strengths and limitations and has fashioned his game accordingly.
But in Salt Lake, the role of the center is vastly different. The flex offense abhors stasis, even for a specialist like Jefferson who has traditionally been a creature of habit at his preferred spot on the floor. Big men are asked to be offensive generalists who remain in constant motion. They must be playmakers, shooters and screeners. More than anything, they need to be able to make reads. For instance, a help defender's choice might trigger a hard cut by a player in Jefferson's position -- and the system succeeds and fails on that player's ability to recognize the call instantly.
"There are a lot of different reads and that's where I find myself getting confused," Jefferson said prior to Tuesday's game at Miami. "But it's coming along. I'm getting better and better everyday. Every. Day."
Jefferson articulated that belief emphatically. But on Tuesday, he struggled. He converted only one of his seven shots from the floor and failed to earn a trip to the stripe in 27 minutes. A number of those six misses were at close range. At the 1:58 mark of the third quarter, Kyrylo Fesenko checked in for Jefferson, who never returned.
"I thought we were doing better defensively," Sloan said when asked why he stayed with Fesenko down the stretch and into overtime. "Al was struggling a little bit with his shooting. It wasn't anything personal."
Jefferson understands that -- something not every benched Jazzman over the years has. It didn't hurt that the Jazz stormed back from a 22-point deficit to mount an improbable comeback in Miami for a 116-114 win.
"In 82 games, that's going to happen," Jefferson said. "I bet you it's going to happen two or three more times this year. The good thing about this league is you got another one tomorrow. I can't sit back and feel sorry for myself. I can't feel sorry at all because won, regardless of how bad I played."
Graceful clichés aside, Jefferson was in good spirits following the game, not only because the festive Jazz locker room was ebullient from their big win, but because he and Sloan have a mutual understanding that this project is going to some time. A bad game isn't a killer. Jefferson knows he needs to establish some familiarity with Sloan's structured system and Sloan knows the staff needs to better understand how to maximize the talents of its new center.
"We have to learn a little more about him, where he likes to get the basketball," Sloan said. "Hopefully we can help him to get it a little easier in certain positions on the floor. The way we play, it takes time to get that done."
Tuesday night's non-starter notwithstanding, Jefferson's output over his first seven games hasn't been awful -- but still significantly below his career numbers. Jefferson isn't expressing too much concern. Like so many of Sloan's converts over the years, Jefferson has an abiding faith that if he devotes himself to the system, positive results will materialize.
"The last three years in Minnesota, everybody knows, 'You throw the ball into block, then double-team Al,'" Jefferson said. "See now, when I catch the ball on the block, that doesn't necessarily mean it's for me to score. You have cutters coming through. The more I pass it off, the more I'm going to be open."
In the meantime, Jefferson will continue to study those schemes on DVD and imagine a day when those reads arrive naturally -- and the double-teams he confronted in Minnesota arrive less frequently.
Big Al emerged as the low-block counterpoint to Paul Pierce on Boston's bad 2006-07 team. When the opportunity surfaced for Danny Ainge to acquire Garnett and Ray Allen, Jefferson was the Celtics' only real long-term asset, and away he went.
Jefferson's post game was uncommonly refined for a 22 year old. Watch some video of the Celtics late in the 2006-07 season and you'll see an aggressive big man who burled to the left side of the rim on almost every possession, then emphatically called for the ball by raising his right hand. When he collected the entry pass on the block, Jefferson would reach into his tool shed of post moves -- a deceptive up-fake to buy himself space for his hook, a drop step that gave him the deed to the baseline, among others.
Al Jefferson: Fun deficiency.
With the swirling narratives about what Minnesota is going to do at the point guard position, it's easy to forget that whomever the organization ultimately gives the rock to, that guy's primary responsibility is to get Al Jefferson the ball where he wants it. Hasn't that been the plan all along?
Even without a premium point guard, Jefferson established himself last season as a beast before going down with a tear of the ACL. His Player Efficiency Rating topped 23. He averaged 23 and 11 -- all with a minuscule turnover rate.
Whenever a player comes back from a devastating injury, whispers about the extent of his recovery can be heard from all quarters. Is Jefferson the same player that compiled those gaudy numbers last season? Has the strength of that right knee -- the one that sweeps toward the basket with brutal efficiency -- been fully restored? If not, how do the Wolves refashion themselves offensively?
These are all very tough questions. If you watched Jefferson last night against the Clippers, you saw a player who hasn't restored his game to its peak level. That's natural, and given that Minnesota is squarely in rebuilding mode, not a huge concern at the present moment. But you also saw a player drowning in frustration.
That sense of purpose which has always guided Jefferson when he has the ball down on the block? It wasn't there Monday night. Jefferson turned the ball over eight times -- five of those traveling violations. Faced up against Marcus Camby or Chris Kaman down on the left block, Jefferson preceded his patented up-fake with an extra step, sometimes in anticipation of a pending double-team, sometimes out of sheer impatience.
Whether it's because he's feeling undue pressure to carry his impoverished team or because he feels hindered by his not being at 100 percent, Jefferson's body language stood in stark contrast to those hungry calls for the ball we witness when he's healthy. When Jefferson is well and fully confident, it's as if he can't wait for the next touch, can't wait for the next opportunity to deke his defender, or simply overpower him.
But last night, Jefferson's work in the post seemed like that -- work. And to the observer, Al Jefferson doesn't look like he's enjoying his job very much.
On my desk is the Minnesota Timberwolves' newest media guide. It's about ten months old, and still has that "freshly printed" smell.
But I'm about to throw it away. The Timberwolves have changed so much, and so quickly, that the book is almost worthless.
Thirteen of the players, a head coach or two, and the face and brain trust of the team through its first two decades -- Kevin McHale: All gone.
In their place: One of the most profound and rapid rebuilds the NBA has ever seen, highlighted by the frenetic activity of hardworking new president of basketball operations David Kahn. He has ushered in new young players like Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio, a new coach in Kurt Rambis, a small collection of returning players highlighted by Al Jefferson and Kevin Love ... and a thousand questions.
Rookies at point guard, rookies in the executive office, and (but for half a lockout season) a rookie head coach. It's a high-risk, shoot-for-the-moon, long-term approach, which is delightful for what it is not: More of the same.
"I have absolutely no desire," says Kahn, "to build a team that perennially wins 40 to 45 games and scratches and claws for the first round."
In other words, he has no desire to run, well, the Timberwolves.
It's a brand new day for professional basketball in the Twin Cities.
Ripping Right Down to the StudsDavid Kahn objects to my saying that he has "ripped the team down to the studs."
"I mean," he retorts, "we kept Al Jefferson, we still have Kevin Love ..."
Only later did I think that I should have responded: "You don't think they're studs?"
Call it what you will, but it's certainly a historical bit of redirection. New head coach Kurt Rambis is the team's best-known quantity, but in his current post he boasts 37 games of experience, which took place a decade ago (on top of a more meaningful decade-and-a-half assisting in the front office and on the sidelines).
Upon arrival, Rambis talked a little bit about the team's assets, but more about changing the culture of the team. But how much culture could be left to change? The only Timberwolves who have been around for even just a year are Corey Brewer, Brian Cardinal, Ryan Gomes, Al Jefferson and Kevin Love.
"Amazing isn't it?" laughs Love. "One year, and I'm already one of the old guys."
"We are in the midst of re-building," says team president Chris Wright. "It is no secret that we are not going to be competing for an NBA championship this upcoming season. ... We are going to play our young players and allow them to grow and develop together on the court. Are we going to take some lumps along the way? Sure, we are. But, the only way our young core will continue to improve is to play together and experience first-hand all of the various situations within an NBA game."
Wright declined to offer insight into ticket sales this summer -- last season the Timberwolves famously offered some five-dollar tickets, which was seen as a strong sign of a weak economy -- but he says the media and blog buzz about the team has ratcheted up, while "there is a renewed excitement about Timberwolves basketball here in the Twin Cities."
No current Timberwolf has had time to enter the bloodstream of Minnesota fans the way Kevin Garnett once did. The player with the most minutes played in a Minnesota uniform is 26-year-old Gomes, who has played about 5,000 minutes since arriving in a trade for Garnett. Five thousand minutes is nothing to sneeze at, but, for instance, Kobe Bryant has played nearly 35,000 minutes for the Lakers.
Rambis singled out Jefferson, Love, Brewer, Rubio and Flynn as "nice pieces," to build around. But his decision to leave the Lakers also centered around the length of his contract, the upcoming draft picks and cap room, and promised input into personnel.
Basketball executives and coaches are relentlessly sunny, in public, about the prospects of their teams. Yet on the day he was hired, the coach was talking about long-term projects. Translation: This could take a while.But there's more to life than one season's win total, and clearly the new management team has owner Glen Taylor's blessing to take some time in redefining the organization, which may well prove brilliant.
"The singular objective," says Kahn, "is to be a championship-contending team. I don't want to put a time frame on it, but it seems that three to four years is probably realistic."
Kahn spells out that this season will be an exploration of how the existing roster works. Next summer there will be several more new players to be added through the draft and free agency. "2010-2011 could be something of a laboratory, too," says Kahn. "There are so many things that can change, but with the path we're on, I think the third year is the first time we can really expect to make a playoff push."
Counting on Al JeffersonAl Jefferson, the team's MVP and the star they received in the Garnett trade, flatly rejects that schedule, saying "It shouldn't be no three years."
While hardly bitter, Jefferson is not guzzling the kool-aid of rebuilding either. "I was a little disappointed about Kevin McHale leaving, and also a little disappointed about Sebastian Telfair leaving," he says. "But I understand it's a business, and I understand David Kahn is here to do a job and he's doing it. ... The team becomes part of your family. You get close to guys, and to see them go, it hurts. ... I miss the guys. But you move on, and it's a new beginning."
(Love is similarly cautious in sizing up the new direction, stopping well short of an endorsement: "All the changes ... We just got to sit back and see. Hopefully it will work in our favor.")
Jefferson also rejects the slow rebuild out of sheer confidence. "When you look at how quickly things turned around in Portland," he says, "when they got Brandon Roy and those young players ... it's up to us. We have some young players, but if we do what we're supposed to do we can make this happen faster."
Jefferson is the team's only unquestioned star, but even he comes wrapped in uncertainty. Not only is he recovering from a torn ACL, but he is forced to play long minutes as an undersized center. The team has a shortage of real 5s, and Love needs minutes at power forward. (The only real center on the roster is Ryan Hollins.)
Jefferson says his injury ought not be a concern. After ACL surgery last winter, he's still not cleared for contact, but is scheduled to see the doctor on August 24 and swears he'll be on the court and ready to play by training camp.
Jefferson says he has been "doing everything I was supposed to do, and not doing everything I wasn't supposed to do." To play center, he had bulked up to 285 or bigger last season. This summer, after seeing the team draft speedster point guards Rubio and Flynn, and knowing he'd be running more than ever, he resolved to get back to his rookie weight of 265 (he's at 270 right now).
How does one drop weight while taking it easy on a healing knee? "Easy," he says. "I didn't go home to Mississippi and eat all that fried food. I stayed in Minnesota."
Kahn and Rambis have insisted that the up-tempo style they plan to play can use
Jefferson on the secondary break, or when the team can't run. Jefferson, for his part, says he'll be like Amare Stoudemire, out there running and finishing on the primary break, and he's looking forward to it.
As for Jefferson and Love's coexistence, Rambis bats aside the concern that they can't play together: "Kevin Love and Al Jefferson can definitely play together. They're going to be the initiators of the break, and they're both very, very capable rebounders in this league. As Pat Riley talked about many years ago, no rebounds, no rings."
Both Love (third) and Jefferson (25th) are highly rated rebounders, and Jefferson had the 10th best PER in the NBA last season. His All-Star level of play, combined with a five-year career of playing for rebuilding teams, may make him one of the biggest victims of this latest and most profound organizational redirect.Jefferson's impressed with Rambis, however: "The No. 1 thing that amazed me was how he left the Lakers. A championship team, probably was going to be the head coach in the next couple of years, who knows? To come here, and to help turn the Timberwolves around, that gained my respect. I just met him today. He already got my respect for that, because a lot of people don't want to come to Minnesota. I'm here and I want to be here, and I want do something this team has never done before, we're going to need all the main pieces to get us there. Bringing Coach here could be the beginning."
"The Spanish Kid"Of the Timberwolves' many summer soap operas, the most closely watched one has been that of fifth overall pick Ricky Rubio (whom Jefferson referred to thrice as "the Spanish kid," and never as "Rubio," in one 10-minute interview). Some suggest the 18-year-old Spanish heartthrob has the potential to be the best point guard of his generation, and are shocked that he lasted to the fifth spot in the draft. Kahn himself expressed delight and surprise at finding Rubio available.
And yet Rubio has yet to sign a Minnesota contract and it's unclear when he will.
Sources indicated his initial reticence at joining a team with Flynn, another highly touted young point guard. More recently, indications are that Rubio's entirely happy to join the Timberwolves, but buyout talks with DKV Joventut, his Spanish team, have not been smooth.
When Rubio was 15, he signed a contract that paid him very little for a professional basketball player -- an annual income of less than $100,000 for most of his time there -- but had a massive buyout clause of 5.7 million Euros, or about $8 million. It is believed to be the biggest buyout in Spanish basketball history.
It remains to be seen if Rubio's lawyers would push the issue, but recognizing that teenagers and their families are ripe for exploitation in negotiating with savvy teams -- it would take decades of work for him to afford the buyout -- Spanish law offers certain protections that may apply in Rubio's case.
Meanwhile, Rubio has long been clear that he intended to go to the NBA, and for a time Joventut made noises, publicly, about a willingness to negotiate should the NBA come calling. (The buyout, in a setting like that, would protect Joventut against richer European teams trying to steal Rubio.) As recently as this summer there was talk of negotiating a severely reduced buyout to help Rubio pursue his NBA dream.
But the more recent storylines in the Spanish press have featured a new uncompromising line from Joventut. Team president Jordi Villacampa recently said that relations had deteriorated and he implied that Rubio would not be welcome to return to play for the team. The Timberwolves are only allowed to contribute $500,000 towards his buyout, so Rubio would seem to have few options beyond haggling further, and deciding how much he can afford to pay out of the roughly $6.8 million he'll be guaranteed from his rookie contract, plus whatever he can get from sponsors.
Meanwhile, the Timberwolves have been careful not to say anything about limiting Rubio's playing time or role, apparently wary of deflating his NBA aspirations.
"I have a gut feeling, right now, that Ricky would be the starter," says Rambis. "Flynn with his speed and and nastiness as a defender, I see him being a key player off the bench ... but it's not set in stone."
What Rambis says is unlikely, however, is Flynn and Rubio starting together.
Kahn had spun a yarn, since the draft, that Flynn and Rubio could play together, in the backcourt, at the same time, for the long term. "Right now I see them playing a little bit on the floor together, but that will be extremely difficult to do for long periods of time particularly in the Western Conference," says Rambis, "because of the quality of the point guards, as well as the quality 2 guards. Defensively, that'll be a tough matchup for either one of them."
Rambis adds, however, that training camp could prove him wrong. "We want them to get as much playing time and experience as possible. They're going to learn the most about the NBA by being out there on the floor. ... There will certainly be times when they will be playing together. They could certainly prove me wrong."
2010 Offseason: Even More ChangeThe Timberwolves will spend this season, essentially, getting to know each other.
But just when the dizziness wears off, there's every reason to think the roster-shifting will resume. Minnesota is poised for action in next summer's free agent market, and has the potential to have as many as three (or as few as zero) first-round picks:
- Minnesota's own pick in 2010 is owed to the Clippers but is top-10 protected, meaning unless the Timberwolves play well enough to end up with the 11th pick or worse, they'll keep their pick. (Assuming they keep the 2010 pick, however, the 2011 pick is the Clippers' with no protections at all, which could prove painful.)
- Charlotte's pick in 2010, which is protected if it's top 12.
- Utah's pick in 2010, which stays with Utah if it's in the top 15.
"At a minimum," says Kahn, "I expect we'll be $10 or $12 million under the cap in the summer of 2010. If we have that cap space, and we can spend judiciously on a player who will help our team, we are absolutely ready to spend that money."
In deference to that cap space, Kahn says that he will not take on any more contracts that last beyond next summer, and is "pretty much done with major changes to the roster" beyond "some pruning and trimming."
"The biggest change that could be coming to our roster for this season is finding out whether or not we'll get Ricky Rubio this season," he says.
This is the kind of rebuild that many teams are too timid to attempt, and it's fun to see it in action. It'll take years, however, to know whether it's brilliant, insane, or somewhere in between.
For 'Wolves fans, everything is changing. One thing that won't change, however, is that around this time next summer, we'll probably still be talking about how it will take time to see what the Timberwolves will become, and
I'll probably once again be throwing out my Minnesota Timberwolves media guide before it's even a year old.
(Rambis photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images. Al Jefferson photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images. Rubio photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Minnesota's star big man -- speaking to the media for the first time since surgery to repair his ACL -- says it has been a tough adjustment to his life of rehabbing. The first problem, says Al Jefferson, is the crutches, which make his armpits hurt.
The second obstacle is a TV that isn't so tough. On the team's official website, Jonah Ballow explains:
"I've liked just watching the games," Jefferson commented. "Not being able to play, I've learned and I'm seeing a lot better, understanding the game, and I keep in contact with the guys. I'm especially in Kevin Love's ear. I try to call him every chance I get, just talk to him and Randy, just let them know, keep a clear head and keep playing hard."
In this time of adversity, Jefferson is seeing the game from a different perspective. At times, the process of watching games instead of participating in the action has resulted in Jefferson single-handily keeping the electronic business afloat in rough economic times.
"Aww man, I threw things," Jefferson joked. "Matter of fact I'm replacing a TV now in my house right as we speak because I threw things at the TV because I be so upset. Sometimes a bad call with the ref or anything. I got to control my emotions on that part."
Is the Spurs-Suns rivalry still relevant? How about Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Marc Iavaroni? The TrueHoop Network has all the relevant information:
John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "On the road against a tough Magic team and still without Z, the Cavaliers were able to establish a rhythm early, but at about the midway point of the second quarter lost their momentum and never really grabbed hold of the reins after that. After they put up monstrous lines against the Kings, the league's 3rd best defense was able to hold LBJ and Mo to a combined 14-42 from the field...
Without Z, we just don't seem to have enough to beat elite teams on the road. It's not the worst admission in the world, but you would hope that we could at least hang a little tougher with these games and not lay eggs on national television.
We'll start with LeBron. I actually don't think he did anything all that wrong, despite the fact that he had one of his worst games of the year. A 23/8/8 line is nice, but taking 30 attempts with a true shooting % of 38 is tough for a team to bounce back from and not all that good.
LeBron took it to the hole, but again seemed to shy away from making really aggressive moves, possibly because the Magic were able to cut away the corners and possibly because LeBron was completely unable to get to the foul line despite driving and getting contact, only shooting 6 free throws the entire game."
Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: "I'll be honest: There is nothing I love more than beating the Suns. Some commenters have suggested that in order for a team to be a true rival they must have beaten us in the playoffs in recent history but in my opinion that is not the definition of a rival. Do they make your blood boil? Do they make you rise out of your seat? Does every single match-up (even regular season games) have an added element of intrigue? Well, that's a rival. So, yes, we have bested the Suns time after time over the last 6 or so years. But this is about more than final scores. Opponents who inspire the depth of emotion I feel deserve the term 'rival.' And, as so many Suns-Spurs games have, this contest did not disappoint."
Ryan Schwan of Hornets247: "...It was announced that David West will be heading to Phoenix to take part in the All-star game again this season, and much like last year, there's a bit of storm raging around the internet about his selection. I have to admit that at first I was a bit torn by this selection. I am, first and foremost, a Hornets fan, and I'm pleased he's being recognized for his production despite being one of the quietest and least self-promoting players in the league. Still, the fact remains I'm also a stat-geek, and by any measure there were better producers in the West that got left off the team. There are three players in particular I have a hard time dismissing out of hand as worse than Fluffy: Manu Ginobili, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. I could be persuaded to put Nene on that list as well."
THE FINAL WORD
The Painted Area: Marc Iavaroni, we told you so.
Valley of the Suns: Hack-a-Bowen?!
Hardwood Paroxysm: The Spurs-Suns rivalry is kaput.
(Photos by Fernando Medina, Barry Gossage, Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
Put together whatever list of statistical experts you want. Dean Oliver, John Hollinger, Daryl Morey, Dan Rosenbaum, David Berri, Justin Kubatko, Wayne Winston, Jeff Sagarin, Jeff Ma, Kevin Pelton ... there are a lot of bright people out there working on the best way to describe basketball in numbers.
There is a lot they do not agree on.
But I'll stick my neck out a little and boldly claim that one thing they all agree on is that just looking at points and rebounds per game is a pretty terrible way to judge a player's value.
Yet that's totally standard operating procedure in basketball.
Talk about Anderson Varejao holding out for big money, and people will tell you he's crazy because he averaged six points and six rebounds per game.
They say that like it's case closed.
I have heard this from coaches, from journalists, from all kinds of people. Is it part of the actual debate between the team and the relevant agents? I have to suspect it is.
Even players are on board. Case in point, here's Kendrick Perkins (in the third part of this three-part interview series on PerkisaBeast):
I mean, Varejao, where's he getting $60 million at? Al getting 71 you could say he's worth it. He's gonna consistently give you a double-double every night - A high double-double. So he's gonna be a 20 and 10 guy every night. So every night you could depend on Al to give you 20 points and 10 rebounds, you can't do that with Varejao. You can't depend on him to do that.
Meanwhile, as Perkins points out, Minnesota's signing of Al Jefferson (for more than Varejao is reportedly asking for, but less than the maximum) is widely lauded as a great move. And when it's lauded, people cite the fact that he's young and getting better -- true enough -- but they also cite his scoring and rebounding numbers from last season: 16 and 11.
16 and 11, the conventional wisdom goes, is valuable. Six and six, they say, is not. And it seems like a no-brainer.
But of course everyone knows that assessment is lacking. It's lacking passing. It's lacking defense. It's lacking how well the guy sets a pick, or how many loose balls he collects. It's lacking field goal percentage, decision making, shot blocking, closing out the shooter, fouling, turnovers, and a million other things. In fact, it's only measuring some of the things things a player does within a second or two of some of the times someone shoots. The rest of the time the clock is ticking -- points and rebounds measure nothing.
Can all that other stuff add up to be more important than points and rebounds? All those statistical experts are finding that, increasingly, the answer is yes.
One of the most sophisticated ways to measure all that, while including defensive contributions, while adjusting for what a players teammates are doing at the same time, is the adjusted plus/minus I talked about the other day.
In 2006-2007 rankings of adjusted plus/minus, among players who played a decent number of minutes, Anderson Varejao was the 22nd best player in the NBA. As in, an All-Star. He ranks ahead of Shawn Marion, Tracy McGrady, Ray Allen, Dwight Howard, Allen Iverson, and countless others.
Jefferson, with his gaudy old-school statistics, was 128th, behind guys like Charlie Bell and Luther Head.
Several other sophisticated statistical analyses similarly rate Varejao as an elite NBA player.
Is this case closed? Does Varejao deserve more money than Jefferson? Should salaries just be set to the adjusted plus/minus list? I don't think so. I have argued many times that new breed basketball statistics are still embryonic. There is much more to come. And in the meantime, factors like old-fashioned scouting and basketball know-how need to play a massive role.
(For another thing, Jefferson is a course to get way better, we all assume.)
But to the extent that numbers are used, we really should attempt to understand and use the best numbers available. And while we might not agree on what those numbers are exactly, we should, by now, agree it's not friggin' points and rebounds.