Posted by: KCJones on September 27th, 2012The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
There’s a LOT of fan talk about big Al. Why is he such a polarizing figure on the Jazz right now?
I try to look at things from a ‘realist’ perspective, which I know, doesn’t really work when you’re a fan of a team, as one usually over-reacts, over-values (or under-values) players and is generally delusional. But here’s my take on Big Al and I hope I can keep it ‘real’:
First off, Al is our highest paid player. He’s our highest ranked player according to ESPN’s NBARank at 44th in the NBA. He had a PER (if you’re into that sort of thing) of 22.88, the 12th highest in the NBA last season. He almost NEVER turns the ball over, which is huge for a big man. He improved his assists last year, averaging 2.2 per game. He scored almost 20 points a game while grabbing almost 10 rebounds a game and getting almost 2 blocks per game. He was huge in the clutch in big games down the final stretch of the season when we were trying to make the playoffs and carried the team in certain games.
That all sounds pretty great, right? We’ve never had a center on the Jazz as good as Al Jefferson! For so many years it was ‘if we just had a decent center we’d be right there in title contention’, from the D-Will era back to the Stockton-Malone era. So there’s gotta be some hidden downside then for Al-Jeff to be scorned by so many, right? And there is. For one, Big Al is a volume isolation shooter. He shoots 50% from the floor, but doesn’t shoot threes (ok ok yeah, he did that ONE time) and rarely gets to the line (two of the most efficient ways to score). So while he scores a lot, it’s not in the most efficient manner. To do what he does, he needs players to clear out, so he can take his man one on one (isolation). This reduces the effectiveness of teammates who thrive off movement, as they then stand around and watch Big Al do what he does. Most of Big Al’s flaws lie in areas where there are no stats to back up what the eye sees. While gifted offensively, Big Al was not blessed with lateral quickness or much athleticism. This shows up on defense. Pull Big Al out of the paint and make him try to guard small, quick guys who can drive by him, like off a pick and roll play, and Big Al looks terrible. It’s a weakness we saw in regular season games against teams that are pick and roll heavy, and especially in our playoff matchup against the Spurs last year, where that weakness was exposed and exploited every time Al was in the game. The slower, patient, long-armed Tim Duncan also gave Big Al fits on offense, where he didn’t go for Al’s patented fakes. This allowed the Spurs to single-cover him, which negated the usual advantage an isolation player brings–that you have to bring a double team to keep him from scoring. Of course, we all know the outcome of that series was a sweep.
Quick sidenote. I would like to mention that there were a lot of other options that Coach Corbin could have gone to to counter the obvious mismatch (um, we have a #3 pick named Derrick Favors who is athletic (make slow Tim Duncan guard THAT) AND an excellent pick and roll defender), but for whatever reason he decided to go with what wasn’t working. Four games in a row. Anyway, Ty could have made Al look a lot better if he had played him against Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair while Favors played when Tim was in.
And that sidenote brings me to my next point. If you take a look at Al’s stats, they show us something. They show he has amazing games against lower tier players, but not bad ones against upper tier players. So that, plus considering most teams don’t run a lot of pick and roll with their backup PG means to me that the correct way to use Al is as a 6th man against backup centers and late in games when you need to get shots off. Those are his strengths, and they are actually VERY useful and have a definite place and can help you win games. Besides Millsap and maybe Burks, there’s no other Jazzman I would want to be giving the ball to to get a shot off in the final minutes of a game. His efficiency is actual quite good (his usual 50%) comparatively in clutch situations. His offensive skills against lower tier guys would require a double-team to stop, which would open up the floor for everyone else. So to me, he’s a perfect main option off the bench. Incidentally, doing that would also allow Favors to start at C, Millsap to start at PF, Marvin Williams (a true SF) to start at SF, and Hayward to start at SG (where his length makes him a better defender against other SFs but still keeps him as a wing playmaker). Also, the players that I think mesh best with Al’s game are Burks (kick and slash), and Kanter (if you play to his shooting strengths…try some high post jumpshots, corner flareouts for three). Although Corbin seems to think that Kanter is post up guy (he’s not..yet) and refused last year to play him with Al. But what are we doing with Al? Of course! We’re using him as a main offensive option all game long against the other team’s starters, and starting him with the players who least mesh with his game! Great idea for this stop-gap of a player we acquired to fill a vacant Boozer spot that didn’t mesh with anything the Jazz did at that time (It was painful to see D-Will try to P&R with Al) like using their athletecism and running, lots of movement and cuts to the hoop.
So here comes the problem. Al would probably be the best 6th-man in the NBA and that’s the role he best fits on this team, IMO. What is really the max you can pay a guy in that role? Maybe $9-$10M max, but no more. But Al is making $15M and has been the main option on bad teams for his career. Would he accept and be happy with a diminished role (even though he would thrive in it and it would drastically help the team), being that he’s in the last year of his contract and wants to get another big payday contract before he gets too old? Probably not. And considering that there are a whole slew of bottom-tier teams that could build around Al and be a MUCH better team: Raptors, Bobcats, Suns, Bucks..a whole slew of them. All those guys would probably happily shell out $15M to get a center like Al you could try to build around to get to be a playoff team. And who knows, maybe one of the big market teams WOULD pay him $15M to be the backup center like I’ve described. And if it weren’t for Favors and Kanter sitting behind him on the Jazz bench, I’m not so sure I would be a proponent of trading him. But I am. Because if he’s not willing to take a diminished role and less money (I assume he’s not because he can have both of those by signing elsewhere in FA), then its time to trade him while we can get some value back for him while allowing our young guys to step into roles that fit them better and that they can start to develop in.
So let me summarize my opinion here. I think Al Jefferson is a great player, but with too many flaws to become your main guy, especially with young promising talent like Favors and Kanter on our roster. I think he could be used much more effectively by playing him as your main bench option, but that his salary (and probably ego) are probably too large for that. I think you COULD build a team around him, but that due to his weaknesses, the most you could hope is for a playoff team, not a title contender. I think the four young guys we have (and Millsap too) don’t mesh well with his game because it stops the fluidity and ball movement. That said, his strengths would add tremendously as a 6th man. But I don’t know how you pay your 6th man $15M a year, and he’ll get that somewhere else in free agency. So while I’d love to keep him and put him in that role for $9-$10M, he’ll get a bigger role and more money on some other team in free agency in a year.
Sorry this post was so long. Anyone have any differing thoughts on Al?
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