For a guy who’s averaged a combined 18.5 points, 11 rebounds, 50% FG, and 1.5 blocks/per over his last two seasons, we’re consistently saddened that the T’Wolves’ franchise cornerstone, Al Jefferson, doesn’t get more credit as one of the NBA’s absolute best offensive big men still under 25 years old.
NBA writers/bloggers know better by now, but to the general public and casual fan Jefferson largely remains “the guy that was traded for Kevin Garnett.” In a way, it’s hard to fault that line of thinking: Jefferson does, after all, suit up for a team that hasn’t made a playoff appearance in over 4 years and that on the surface may seem directionless and lacking star power. You know that just isn’t true though.
And with the Celtics fresh off a NBA championship that simply would not have happened without KG in the fold, for now it certainly looks they pulled a fast one on McHale and Timberwolves—God knows it wouldn’t be the first (and definitely won’t be the last) time that’s happened. Fast forward two or three seasons, however, when the treads have finally worn off KG’s knees and Jefferson has become a still-in-his-20s perennial All-Star pick. Hopefully it’ll come sooner, but that’s when Minny’s acquisition of Jefferson will almost certainly be viewed in a different light.
For all of that remarkably fluid offensive prowess he already flashes on the blocks, the main criticism leveled at Jefferson is his defense, or lack thereof. It’s a valid one, too, and far and away the biggest part of his game that needs to be improved for him to truly make his mark as a dominant force in this league. In an interview on NBA.com with Mike Trudell, Jefferson, to his credit, acknowledges this and say that it’s something he’s working hard to address:
Mike Trudell: Before last season you spoke about wanting to show people what you could do as the focal point of the team, and 20 and 10 was the result. What’s on tap this time around?
Al Jefferson: It’s trying to be a well-rounded player. I know I can go out and get 20 and 10, but this year I want to be more of a leader – a better leader. Plus, I want to be a better defensive player, and that’s been a main focus this (offseason). I know I can score and rebound, but now we have some help with scoring in Mike Miller and rebounding with Kevin Love, so this year I want to lead this team and try to get to the playoffs. I really believe we have a great chance to fight for the playoffs, and that’s something we want to do.
MT: Tim Duncan’s always been called a power forward but he plays on the low block like a traditional center on offense.
Jefferson: On defense, a center is a goaltender. If you’re going to play center, you have to be a great defensive player. And that’s where I need to step my game up if I’m playing center. So it’s defense, not offense, where that matters.
Check out the whole interview for much more from Jefferson, including his thoughts on new teammates Kevin Love and Mike Miller and how he feels better conditioning will translate to better defense.
Al Jefferson Photo Credit: Icon SMI