Al Jefferson looks for possibilities from the post (Melissa Majchrzak/ Getty).
Utah Jazz big man Al Jefferson has been in the NBA eight seasons, during which he's stood out as an especially skilled scorer in the post despite coming into the league straight from high school. Yet, while those skills were at a level we usually see from veterans, Jefferson had other tendencies more commonly associated with youngsters. For instance, he was a bit of a black hole, averaging 2.0 or greater assists per 36 minutes just twice in his career despite never dipping below a 21 percent usage rate.
However, Jefferson, now 27 years old, is learning. In fact, he finally figured out that getting the ball to shooters on the perimeter opens things up for him on the inside. From Steve Reed of the Associated Press (via TBJ):
"Hey, it's taken me eight years to realize that if I pass the ball outside and guys hit open shots, it helps free me up," Jefferson [sic]. "I guess better late than never." [...]
"Al was doing a good job of passing the ball tonight," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We need to touch that thing inside before we take our jump shots. That's who we are. We go through him and need him to make the right plays. … We know if they come and double him we want to make sure we space the floor and make the right plays."
As Trey Kerby notes, Jefferson hasn't played with many great 3-point shooters in his career, so he can be forgiven for not thinking this was the best idea. On the other hand, his presence might very well have made those shooters better if he'd focused on passing to them earlier. A basketball team is a group of interdependent players, and the stats of one guy can be explained by the play of others.
Still, while it might be easy to knock Jefferson for taking so long to figure out what seems like a pretty basic point, it's nice that he did so at all. Lots of talented players never realize this important point. Jefferson deserves credit for growing, even if that growth came later than many would have liked.
- Al Jefferson