Top NBA Players: #33 Al Jefferson

Apr 14, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) dunks the ball during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum. Memphis Grizzlies defeated Utah Jazz 103-98. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

Al Jefferson
Resume: 19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 34.0 minutes, 31 double-doubles (7th in league), 49% FG, and 77% FT (career best)… Team record in games played: 32-29 (4-1 without)… Playoffs: 18.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 53% FG, 0-4 record

If you don’t know me personally, I should let you know that I’m a 6’1 kid who isn’t incredibly athletic, but had a pretty good high school basketball career because I play have the ball handling skills and passing instincts of a point guard, but spent a lot of time playing in the post because I’m built bigger than a lot of guys I played against. If I’m surfing around YouTube and not watching Best of Gus Johnson clips or classic moments in wrestling, I’m probably watching one of two different kinds of basketball highlight videos: Passing highlights of players like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Steve Nash, and Rajon Rondo, or highlights of guys like Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin McHale,  and Al Jefferson, doing their work down low. It might sound a little blasphemous to include Al Jefferson with two of the greatest low post scorers and shot creators of all-time, but in today’s age of NBA basketball, Al Jefferson is the closest thing we have to greats like Olajuwon and McHale.

Jefferson is an old-school throwback; someone who plants himself on the block and can either face up or make back-to-the-basket moves that aren’t just based on being bigger and strong than everyone (cough, cough, Dwight Howard, cough, cough). Jefferson’s footwork is so good that he can create space with a couple of jab steps and he can get to just about anywhere he wants near the rim. His hook shot, which looks more like a flip shot, is just about impossible to block. And don’t even get me started with his shot fake. Good God. I’ll start to sound my mom talking about how good I was as Santa Claus in the 5th grade play. Just click on Jefferson’s name above, watch the video, and pay attention to what he does to Roger Mason 9 seconds in, Brendan Haywood at 1:10, DeMarcus Cousins at 1:29, and Larry Sanders at 2:09. Throw in a series of sweep-thru’s and spin moves, and Jefferson becomes one of the toughest big guys to guard in the NBA.

As I was doing my research on Al Jefferson, I came to notice what a unique career he’s had. He entered the NBA Draft as a much ballyhooed high school prospect, averaging 42.6 points, 18 rebounds and 7 blocks per game at Prentiss High School. He was drafted by Boston and during his 3rd season averaged a double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds per game) for the in-the-process-of-tanking Celtics. Here is where things get interesting: In the 2007 NBA Draft Lottery the Boston Celtics had the 2nd best odds of securing the number one pick. Let’s just assume that instead of ending up with the 5th pick, the lottery would’ve played out as expected and the Celtics would’ve had the 2nd overall pick in the draft. Now consider, the Celtics at this point already had Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and Al Jefferson. It would be interesting to see how Celtics fans would answer the following question… Are you content with “The Big Three” era, or would you have rather gone forward with Kevin Durant (the likely 2nd overall pick), Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Al Jefferson. Maybe in the short term, trading the 5th pick for Ray Allen, and Al Jefferson as the centerpiece of a move for Kevin Garnett, was the better move, but how good does a young nucleus of Rondo, Durant and Jefferson look moving forward, along with at least 5 good years of Paul Pierce? That’s a tough one to answer.

Jefferson was traded to Minnesota, and was eventually teamed up with Kevin Love for 2 years. Now once again play the what-if game, and look at if Minnesota doesn’t trade Al Jefferson to Utah for two future first round picks (which the Timberwolves have turned into Brad Miller) and Kosta Koufos. So basically, the Timberwolves would’ve been better off trading for a bag of skittles, four new water boys and cash considerations. Imagine if the Timberwolves had kept Jefferson, and Love still improved as greatly as he did after playing for Team USA in 2010 at the World Championships. Minnesota had already drafted Ricky Rubio, so you could only argue that with an extra year of Jefferson the Timberwolves wouldn’t have had the number two pick last year. Let’s assume they finish 9th in the west, which gives them the 14th pick which could’ve been someone like Kawhi Leonard or Iman Shumpert. Let’s say going into last season the Timberwolves have a starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, Iman Shumpert, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love and Al Jefferson. That’s a team good enough to make the playoffs, right? Give the Timberwolves the 16th pick in the 2012 Draft, say they draft Royce White, Tyler Zeller or Terrance Jones. Now Minnesota is going forward with one of the most unselfish young point guards in the league (Ricky Rubio), a solid perimeter defender (Leonard or Shumpert), the best power forward (Kevin Love), one of the best interior scorers in the league (Jefferson) and whatever draft picks/free agency pick-ups they make along the way.

Instead, Jefferson is in Utah where he has very little help outside of Paul Millsap (#47 in my rankings). Just imagine the teams that could’ve been built with Al Jefferson as an All-Star center focal point. Normally I don’t like to look at what ifs. It’s an excuse you use to try to make up for something you aren’t pleased with. But man, I would’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing more Al Jefferson than I most likely will now.