It’s weird that the Charlotte Bobcats are good this year. Sure, you can pin it on the Eastern Conference being weak if you want to. After all, with a 24-30 record, they’d make the Playoffs by the skin of their teeth if they started today. But there is no denying that they are much, much better. With the addition of Steve Clifford, their defense has received a much needed face-lift. As far as personnel goes, Kemba Walker continues to evolve, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is making his case as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, Gerald Henderson is proving that the mid-range game isn’t a lost art and it turns out that Josh McRoberts is pretty good at this point-forward thing.
And then there’s Al Jefferson.
This summer, the Bobcats got their franchise player. He’s a little on the old side at 29 and slightly overpaid at $40.5 million over three years, but he’s been a walking double-double for years now and has established himself as one of the best big men in the game. Unfortunately, it took him a while to get going with the ‘Cats. Over the first couple months of the season, he struggled with a nagging ankle injury that kept him out of the lineup and it took him some time to find his feet with his new team. Yet ever since the New Year rolled along, he’s been putting up huge numbers to the tune of 23.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. To no surprise, the Bobcats have been better with him on their side. And quite honestly, he deserved to be an All-Star, as he proved on Tuesday night against the Detroit Pistons when he scored 32 points, pulled down 12 rebounds and dished out seven assists in a 108-96 road win for the Bobcats.
While the numbers speak for themselves, it’s remarkable how much Al Jefferson has changed this team. Over the last few years, the Bobcats have dealt with some pretty shoddy bigs, such as Kwame Brown, Tyrus Thomas and DeSagana Diop. (I don’t think I need to remind you how bad they were/are). Adding Jefferson to the mix has given them a much needed offensive weapon down low, as well as a nice running mate alongside Kemba Walker. As a result, their offense has been much better.
It’s been known for years now that Jefferson is a killer on the low block, yet just how good he is down there often goes unnoticed. When he catches the ball in his sweet spot (which is anywhere within 10-feet of the basket) he’s hard to stop because he can score in so many different ways. He doesn’t just bulldoze his way to the rim or beat his defender with a quick first step. Instead he takes his time and makes a move depending on how he is being guarded, like a true veteran.
To prove that, let’s take a look at some of the things he did against the Pistons on Tuesday.
On this play, Andre Drummond cut off the baseline, forcing Jefferson into the middle of the court where there was supposed to be help defense.
Here was the situation for the Detroit Pistons: Kyle Singler couldn’t help off too much because that would leave Gerald Henderson open for a three or a long-two, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist forced Josh Smith to pick him up instead of helping out by making a strong cut to the basket and Josh McRoberts was in motion of going to the corner to held spread the floor. Therefore, with no help defense in sight, Jefferson took one dribble and pivoted into the paint. Before he rose up, he hit Drummond in the ribs with his bony elbow to create all the space he needed. Then an easy hook-shot.
Later on in the game, Greg Monroe defended Jefferson the exact same way, yet when he took that one hard dribble into the paint, Moose jumped at his right hand to cut off the hook. Instead of shooting a contested shot, Jefferson displayed perfect footwork by simply gathering himself and taking a step towards the basket for an easy lefty lay-in.
Here’s a video of both those plays:
What’s most impressive about Jefferson’s post-moves, however, is that he has a counter to that strong right hook. As we’ve already seen, he can quite easily use his strength to back opposing centers down to get to his favorite spots on the floor, but he’s also able to use his quickness to leave his defender in the dust.
This play was a simple post-up for Jefferson and after making the entry pass, Ramon Sessions made a cut to the basket to prevent his defender, Rodney Stuckey, from doubling the post. Since Jefferson had already scored several times by driving middle into the paint at this point in the game, Greg Monroe played up on his left shoulder, exposing the baseline.
It’s important to note where Jefferson posts up. Any lower on the block and he wouldn’t have the room to spin baseline; any higher and someone like Drummond would have more of a chance of helping out. By stationing himself where he is, it gives him the option of using either one of his go-to moves.
Using his back to feel how Monroe was playing him, Jefferson dipped his shoulder in to make it seem as though he was setting himself up to make his normal move. Then he span baseline. Because Monroe was putting so much force into preventing Jefferson from backing him down, he lost his feet and had no chance of contesting the shot. Jefferson was left with a wide-open look a few feet away from the basket.
Here’s a video of him doing that exact move not once, not twice, but three separate times against the Pistons:
The only thing that was left for the Pistons to do was to double Jefferson, but every time they did, he found his teammates open for good looks at the basket. On most nights against the Bobcats that might work because they don’t have that many offensive threats or people that can stretch the floor. But on Tuesday, Jefferson had a lot of help: Josh McRoberts hit three threes en route to 14 points, Gerald Henderson chipped in with 12, Kemba Walker scored 22 and Sessions gave them 12 points off the bench.
This was a big win for the Charlotte Bobcats. Not only do their hopes of making the Playoffs stay alive for at least another few days, but they’re now 1.5 games ahead of the Detroit Pistons. With another win tonight against them on their home-court, they could extend that even further. But the best news for the folks in Charlotte is that 15 of the next 28 games for the Bobcats are at home and the winning percentage of their remaining opponents is 0.485. The Pistons on the other hand: 17 road games and a .511 winning percentage.
How far the Bobcats will make it this season remains to be seen. Defensively, they’re up there with the best in the league. Offensively, they’re…not the best. But with Walker and Jefferson, they’re good enough to win close games, which is something that couldn’t be said over the last few years. And they’re actually fun to watch. They can score inside and out, they’re unselfish and the ball movement has been very crisp as of late.
We can thank Al Jefferson for most of that.