Why Al Jefferson Would Fit Houston Rockets Just as Well as Dwight Howard

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistJune 29, 2013

Al Jefferson is a great alternative to Dwight Howard.
Al Jefferson is a great alternative to Dwight Howard.George Frey/Getty Images

We all know the buzz around the Houston Rockets: that free-agent big man Dwight Howard may want to join forces with James Harden and company under the roof of the Toyota Center and potentially form a title contender.

Rocket fans are thrilled at the possibility—and rightfully so. After all, Howard, when healthy, is the best big man in the game, and his addition to what is already a solid lineup could ultimately put Houston over the top.

That being said, there also remains the chance that Howard does not take his talents to south Texas. Maybe he will end up in the northern part of the state with the Dallas Mavericks? Maybe he signs with his hometown Atlanta Hawks? Or perhaps he decides to take the extra $30 million to stay with the Los Angeles Lakers?

Either way, given the nice financial flexibility that the Rockets will have this summer, general manager Daryl Morey is likely to come away with someone this offseason. Even if that "someone" isn't Dwight, it could be a pretty darn good player.

One name that immediately comes to mind?

Al Jefferson.

Jefferson is probably the second-best big man on the market, and while he isn't Dwight Howard, he is a great consolation prize.

Jefferson is a player who epitomizes consistency. You know you're going to get somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 and 10 from him every game, and he also has the ability explode for 30 and 20.

Also, unlike Howard, Jefferson has a very refined offensive repertoire. He is one of the best low-post players in the league today (not to mention the fact that he can actually make his free throws), and for that reason, one can argue that he would actually be a better fit for Houston than Howard.

Howard is a defensive-minded center much like Omer Asik. Can Howard put points on the board? Absolutely. He cannot, however, do it in as many ways as Jefferson can.

Just take a look at their shot charts.

As you can see, Jefferson can score from all over the floor. Howard makes his living in the paint, but Jefferson's offensive efficiency down low is nearly identical. Jefferson is also a very good mid-range jump shooter, a statement that is confirmed by all of that green out on the perimeter.

Now am I saying that Al Jefferson is a better player than Dwight Howard? Absolutely not.

Howard's impact on the defensive end of the floor is unmatched by most, and let's be real here. While Jefferson is not as bad on that end of the floor as many postulate, defense is not exactly his strong point. Plus, while Jefferson is a very good rebounder, he is no Howard on the glass, either.

What I am saying, however, is that the Rockets already have sort of a poor man's (okay, a very poor man's) Dwight Howard in Asik. Asik doesn't offer much offensively, but he plays great D and hits the glass as well as almost anyone in the league.

So, maybe a big man with a reliable low-post game would actually complement Asik better than Howard? Just think of the kind of inside-out game Houston would have with Jefferson and Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin.

Sounds very impressive, doesn't it?

There is also a chance that Morey may have to trade either Asik or Lin to clear enough cap room to sign Howard, something that he may not have to do for Jefferson.

Rockets beat writer Ben DuBose had this to say before the draft:

Howard will certainly get a max contract while Jefferson will probably get slightly less, so Morey could likely get away with inking Big Al without having to part with one of his young players.

There is one more little nugget of information to consider, too: Howard's back.

Howard underwent back surgery in April of 2012, and he still did not look fully recovered throughout the 2012-13 campaign. As a matter of fact, in a February interview with Stephen A. Smith, Howard said that he still felt a "tingly sensation" in his legs. That's pretty scary, because the surgery was supposed to fix that.

Do the Rockets want to invest long term in a guy who could potentially have chronic back problems when there are other good big men on the market? Yes, Jefferson tore his ACL during the 2008-09 season, but since then, he has been very healthy.

Here are a couple of interesting stats from over the past two years when Dwight was having his back issues: During the 2011-12 campaign, Howard posted .179 win shares per 48 minutes. That was only slightly better than Jefferson, who tallied .173. Then, this past season, Jefferson actually topped Howard in that area, averaging .143 win shares per 48 minutes to Dwight's .134.

Again, I am not saying that Al Jefferson is a better player than Dwight Howard, because when they are both healthy, Howard is clearly superior. However, the question is, will Howard be able to stay healthy? Actually, a better question might be, will Howard get healthy?

Because Dwight was obviously not 100 percent this past year.

Howard should definitely be Houston's No. 1 option this summer. But, if Morey isn't able to land him and instead ends up grabbing Jefferson, Rocket fans should still rejoice; you'd still be significantly improving your ballclub.


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