The end of the NBA's regular season brings with it not only the start of the playoffs, but also voting for the league's slew of annual awards — Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, etc. — and the three All-NBA teams that recognize the top forwards, guards and centers from the just-concluded campaign. Each year, teams' public-relations departments and promotional arms take it upon themselves to come up with fun, quirky ways to raise their players' profiles with prospective voters — think of the "Bruise Brothers" LP that the Minnesota Timberwolves sent coaches to try to get Nikola Pekovic added to the Western Conference All-Star team, or the then-New Jersey Nets' "Incredible Hump" promo to push Kris Humphries for Most Improved Player.
This season appears to be no exception, with the Houston Rockets shipping out Superman-inspired press packages and beard-grooming kits to push the MVP candidacies of Dwight Howard and James Harden, respectively. (They're pretty clearly fighting for third place, just like everybody else not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but it's still fun to make things.) The early leader in creativity and execution among this year's crop of award promotions, though, is "Big Al's Paint," a multimedia campaign launched by the Charlotte Bobcats to advance the notion that Al Jefferson should be included as the center on one of the three All-NBA teams.
The idea's brilliant in its simplicity: nobody owns the painted area (shouts to Hubie) quite like the 29-year-old behemoth, so let's pitch him as the owner and operator of North Carolina's premier painting companies. Charlotte kicked it off by sending voters a Big Al-branded paint can jammed with tonally appropriate goodies:
The can includes some pretty great paint swatches highlighting the best parts of Al's low-post work — the up-and-unders, the drop-steps, the immortal pump-fakes, etc. — in varying shades of the Bobcats' blue, orange and grey color schemes:
The 'Cats thought outside the can, too, creating a wonderful website highlighting Jefferson's left-block virtuosity ("Some competitors may be glossier, but no other paint features the trademark 'low post formula' found in Big Al’s Paint"), how Big Al's stats stack up against some of the NBA's other top big men, and testimonials on his offensive mastery from frustrated opposing players and coaches who have tried, unsuccessfully, to keep the big fella under wraps. The most delightful part, for my money: a series of public-broadcasting-style videos, titled "Painting with Big Al," in which the man himself teaches us about home-improvement techniques like "sponging."
And of course, no instructional video series can truly be considered complete unless it includes a cameo by — and an opportunity to rag on — a rookie. Step right up, Cody Zeller:
Sure, it stinks to get paint on your jersey, but look on the bright side, Cody: At least Al didn't use one of your socks.
It's super fun stuff all the way around, and it's an especially welcome attention-getter for a Bobcats team that has, for most of its existence, been a topic of conversation only when they've been terrible or rebranding. This year's Charlotte squad is different — the Bobcats are just one game south of .500, the top-10 defense that first-year head coach Steve Clifford has fashioned out of seemingly mismatched parts isn't going anywhere, and for the first time in franchise history, they have a major-league offensive force.
Jefferson's been beasting for the past three months — 24 points on 53 percent shooting and 10.5 rebounds per game since Jan. 1 — and the long-moribund Bobcats' offense has taken off around him, ranking a surprising 10th in the league in points scored per possession since the All-Star break, according to NBA.com's statistics, just a tick below the go-go Phoenix Suns. Whether they'll be able to sustain that sort of offensive effectiveness over the course of a postseason matchup with elite defenses like the ones boasted by the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat remains to be seen, but Jefferson's ability to distort coverages, reliably beat just about any defender in the world one-on-one on the block, command double-teams and open doors for his teammates makes the Bobcats dangerous — and interesting — in a way that they've really never been before.
Is it enough to make Jefferson an All-NBA center, though? That's a tough one.
Joakim Noah deserves recognition for the combination of defensive brilliance and ever-improving facilitating that has kept the Chicago Bulls afloat since Derrick Rose's injury and Luol Deng's departure. Ditto for Howard, whose first season with the Rockets has seen him look more like the game-changer he was for the Orlando Magic than the injury-wracked and unhappy employee he was for the Los Angeles Lakers, who has spearheaded Houston's improvement from a middling defense to a top-10 caliber unit, and whose presence has elevated the Rockets from frisky first-round fodder to potential contender. Determining the third-team nod figures to be brutal, with Jefferson competing against the likes of Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins (10th in the league in scoring, fifth in rebounding, fifth in Player Efficiency Rating, an absolute monster season for a bad team) and San Antonio Spurs big man Tim Duncan (who has bounced back from a slow offensive start to once again serve as the both-ends-of-the-floor centerpiece of the team with the NBA's best record), and perhaps other candidates, as well.
If you favor raw numbers, Boogie's probably your man. If team success is the determinant, you're likely picking Duncan. If you're interested in rewarding impact on a 180-degree turnaround, though, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better option than Jefferson, whose influence and productivity have helped utterly transform the Bobcats. With all due respect to the space he occupies and the promotional tool in question, Big Al's impact has gone far beyond sprucing up an unattractive old home with a fresh coat of paint; it's been a total remodel, and the result has the Bobcats looking better than ever.
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