For what it's worth, Al Jefferson is No. 9 in Wolves all-time scoring, and No. 4 in Wolves all-time rebounding.
Also for what it's worth, there was one year were Al Jefferson struck fear into opposing defenses with his old school post up moves that rivaled the likes of Kevin McHale's 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks were the norm for the all-star caliber player. Being a legit 6'10'', with a well filled frame and wingspan, Al Jefferson also had the tools to become an efficient defensive player.
Al Jefferson was considered at the time, a No. 2 option on a championship caliber team. With his ability to score seemingly at will, it would seem that Al would just need a No. 1 option in a wing player to become even more effective, and at the time, Al Jefferson probably wouldn't accept that.
With his arsenal, and Kevin McHale coaching him, Al Jefferson took a large amount of shots, and the Wolves' offense was run through him.
Enter in a torn ACL injury in the 2008-2009 season, and the Wolves struggle even more severely.
Most NBA experts say that it takes a full year to regain explosiveness and timing back from an ACL injury, Al Jefferson was no exception.
Compared to the year before last, Al Jefferson was not explosive at all, he no longer had a quick first step, and his offense consisted of what he does best, drop steps, jump hooks, rarely a rim rattling dunk (just ask Yao Ming ). Without a drop of efficiency, Al Jefferson not only got three minutes less of action on average, but it was in the midst of learning a new offense, having new coaches and teammates, and dealing with family deaths and illnesses.
Last years Al Jefferson showed a completely different side, a veteran savvy maturity, and a will to want to be better.
Al Jefferson at the beginning had doubts about the triangle offense, about his coaches, about why the team was losing, and hung his head down. Later on during the season, Al Jefferson was convicted of a DUI, and since the Wolves were already on the mark of an horribly embarrassing season, Al Jefferson had been written off by the Minnesota Timberwolves' community.
He's been in many trade rumors, forums, hate mail, you name it, pretty much anything involving letting Al Jefferson go, he's been at the center of it. I think this is due to the Wolves losing so many games, the community has gone haywire, starting to state flaw, after flaw, after flaw.
"He's horrible on the defensive end, he can't score in the fourth quarter when we need him too, he's getting paid too much money, he doesn't fit in the triangle, he doesn't play hard enough, he can't, he won't, etc". Among others, Wolves fans have given up on Al Jefferson, as I admittedly have started to think that maybe Al doesn't want to remain a Wolf, and I have at times wanted him out.
Snap back to reality, and let's take it back a step.
Just two years ago, this guy was averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds. Just two years ago, this guy was looked at as a franchise player that needed some help. That same player couldn't pass out a double team, had poor defensive awareness, and among other flaws that I've mentioned before.
Why in the world would Wolves' fans give up on a player that has made significant strides other than the point totals, despite the fact that he didn't get as many attempts?
The Al Jefferson we saw late in the season was starting to pass out of the double team, hit guys for open looks, and he even went through a stretch in which the Wolves won four games in a row, where he was shooting over 90 percent in the fourth quarter in three out of four of those games.
A lot of fans say that Al has no defensive awareness guarding the paint. While I think it could be better, it did improve substantially when he was playing next to Darko Milicic, but even then, it wasn't satisfying enough.
I however noticed that the Wolves' defensive problems don't lie on just Al Jefferson, their perimeter defense is more horrible at times, and when players can get to the rim at will, I'm assuming that your bigs are supposed to pick up the slack right? I also thought that defense was a team attribute. It takes Al Horford and Joakim Noah to make Corey Brewer a lock down defender, so how do you expect Al to defend everything in the paint all the time?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Al is a defensive minded big, but placing the blame on Al Jefferson alone right now, when the Wolves were the worst defensive team and have no perimeter defenders, seems a little bit pre-mature.
His offensive numbers went down, but while he had less attempts and less time on the floor, he also dunked less often, and drew less fouls. He had no drops in efficiency, this means that his floaters, and his jump hooks are probably even more efficient than they were the season prior.
But while Wolves' fans are just hating Al Jefferson right now, I'm pretty sure a lot of other teams would love to have arguably the best young post player in the NBA. It's not like Al Jefferson's numbers were that bad. 17.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG.
Last year's Al Jefferson is different, because he's more mature now. I'm pretty sure while Al Jefferson was having his all-star season, you probably couldn't tell him he needed some help, or that he wasn't a No. 2 option. The GM of the Wolves David Kahn, has stated that numerous times last season, and I think that Al Jefferson now gets that.
It's rare for a big man to be a No. 1 option unless it's surrounded with number two, three's and four's. Look at Dwight Howard surrounded by Vince Carter, Rashad Lewis and Jameer Nelson. How about Shaq and Kobe, or Shaq and Wade? What about Kobe and Gasol/Bynum? How about Duncan and Parker? More times often than not, a wing player compliments a big man, and the Wolves haven't found that yet.
Al Jefferson is no exception, and I still believe he's a No. 2 option. He's a post player that can get his shot against any big in the league. He still has decent quickness, anticipation, and a high offensive basketball I.Q to get his shot off. He can draw double teams, and he can pass out of them much better than he could over a year ago.
He accepts his role, he doesn't fret when he's not getting 20 shots a game, in fact he had an interview in which he stated that he's "getting his shots", but he's missing, despite it's not what he's used to. He only took 20 shots seven times last season, and he scored 20+ points in all of those games.
He wants to learn the triangle offense, he understands he's still a young player, and that he has more potential. He wants to be better, and he doesn't complain, yet this is a player that isn't valued by the Wolves' fans as much as he used to be. I think he knows this, and this is why this summer if vital for him.
He's already stated that he was taking 2 weeks of rest, and it was right back to work. This summer, he has strength and endurance training, highlighted with workouts with Hakeem Olujawon. He has stated "I've done this before, I know I can do it again". You have to admit that with all the losses, he's probably adjusted to losing, and that's not a good thing, but his professionalism shined a little brighter than what you would think a 15-win player with a DUI woud shine.
Should you write Al Jefferson off? Have you given up on him?
I think it's pre-mature.
I say, if the Wolves get Evan Turner (or a No. 1 option) in this upcoming draft, this should be the year where it's do or die for Jefferson and his Wolves fans. Not only should he be putting up 18+ points, 10+ rebounds, but his defensive awareness should be better (i.e Kendrick Perkins), and he should be coming alive in the clutch.
I doubt he will be traded, and he just might remain a Wolf for the rest of his career. He and Kevin Love are really the only two players that would deserve a vote for the all-star game, and he's still learning the game.
There you go Al, I backed you up, now go out there and make me look good.
Thanks for reading!