According to Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com, the San Antonio Spurs are the favorites to acquire Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson. This comes after months of speculation that Utah would trade one of their two star big men, Jefferson or Paul Millsap, with expiring contracts (via ESPN Insider).
If San Antonio managed to acquire Jefferson, it would overtake the Oklahoma City Thunder as the favorite in the Western Conference.
Considering the Thunder are led by the likes of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it's likely that fans will oppose this stance. The fact of the matter is, championships are won by more than just superstars.
That's why San Antonio has three titles since the turn of the century and OKC has yet to win one.
Already the league's best team at 39-11, the Spurs would take a significant step towards adding a fourth with the acquisition of Jefferson. They would also enable their offense to exploit the OKC interior—an area where OKC is stronger with their shot blocking than they are their fundamentals.
According to the common NBA fan, Jefferson is nothing more than a productive player on a middle-of-the-pack team. The truth of the matter is, Jefferson is one of the most skilled players at his position.
Amongst centers, Jefferson ranks in the top five in scoring, value added and estimated wins added (via ESPN). In fact, Jefferson ranks second by position in the final two categories.
In the basic statistics, Jefferson is equally as proficient.
Would Al Jefferson make the San Antonio Spurs the Western Conference favorite?
Al Jefferson is presently averaging 17.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. These numbers place him in rare company.
Only two active players are averaging at least 17.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks simultaneously (via Basketball-Reference). One is Jefferson and the other is Tim Duncan.
By executing the proposed trade, both of those players would be on the San Antonio Spurs.
Thus far in 2012-13, Duncan is averaging 17.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.7 blocks per game. Not only does that place Duncan alone with Jefferson, but it brings him to another distinction.
Duncan is the only player in the NBA to average at least 17.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 blocks simultaneously (via Basketball-Reference).
By pairing these two statistical wizards, the Spurs would create one of the most powerful interiors in the NBA. This is the type of pairing that can control the pace of any game.
Specifically against the up-tempo Thunder.
For those who are concerned with the Spurs' ability to use two elite interior players simultaneously, think again. Head coach Gregg Popovich has been running this type of system since he placed David Robinson and Duncan together in the late 1990s.
Jefferson may not be The Admiral, but he's one heck of a counterpart.
Controlling the Tempo
If any team plans on taking down the Oklahoma City Thunder, they'll need to control the pace of the game. Per HoopData.com, OKC is 11th in pace and leads the league in scoring at 106.2 points per game.
If the San Antonio Spurs plan on defeating the Thunder, their best bet is to dump the ball down low and force OKC into a half-court game.
This is not to say that the Thunder cannot thrive in such a manner, but instead to acknowledge the improvement of San Antonio's chances at victory. With the Spurs ranking in the top 10 in scoring offense and defense, they're hardly an underdog, to begin with.
Unfortunately, they always appear to be one game-changer away from taking over against OKC. Al Jefferson can be that player.
Not only is Jefferson sound from the post, but he's solid from mid-range and a handful on the offensive glass. Jefferson is presently averaging 2.0 offensive boards per game.
It is this type of production that makes Jefferson the potential X-Factor in a series between the Thunder and Spurs.
With all of this being noted, there is no guarantee that Jefferson will end up with the Spurs. As attractive as his skill and expiring contract may be, San Antonio could be forced to give up more than it's willing to part ways with.
Furthermore, Utah could reject the offer being made.
Should the Spurs and Jazz agree upon a deal, however, San Antonio will emerge as the favorite in the Western Conference. Not only will it own the best record in the NBA, but the Spurs will have created the league's top frontcourt.
The ultimate X-Factor against the up-tempo Thunder.