4 Ways Al Jefferson Can Set an Example for the Young Utah Jazz Big Men
In his first season with the Jazz, Al Jefferson led the team in scoring with 18.6 points a game and 9.7 boards. He established himself as a solid presence at the five position. Entering his eighth season, Jefferson gives the Jazz an experienced big man to lead a young group of players.
Second year players Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans and rookie Enes Kanter form a quartet of raw yet talented young big men for whom the sky's the limit in potential if they can learn the following four things from the elder Jefferson.
Establishing a Presence in the Paint
The vast majority of Al Jefferson's points came within 10 feet of the basket. He has a nice jump hook that stretches out to 12-15 feet, but his best offensive work is around the basket.
Big Al is adept at using his 280-pound frame to establish position down low and the result was nearly a 20-10 average. He also produced about two blocks a game.
As effective as Paul Millsap has been, Derrick Favors could really push him if the season ever gets going.
At 6'10" and 246 lbs., Favors has great size and athleticism at the four spot and flashed exciting potential as an inside force after the trade from New Jersey, finishing with over 5 boards a game, just about one block, and nearly seven points in just under 20 minutes of playing time.
Rookie Enes Kanter checks in at 6'11" and 262, so he too possesses terrific size for working the paint. He is raw, but playing behind Jefferson will give him a chance to pick up the nuances of the pro game while developing his vast potential for dominating the paint.
Rumor has it that Jefferson has fervently been working out in Santa Barbara since May. There were times on the defensive end of the court in his first year with the Jazz that he was soft, not as much as Boozer, but Jazz fans hoped for a nastier presence on defense from Jefferson.
Hopefully, the private workouts will lead to more toughness from Jefferson down low. He did prove to be dependable and durable as he played all 82 games last season.
Jefferson's ability to get nastier on defense this season will go a long way to setting a tone of toughness for the young players. The players who stand to gain the most from that example will be Jeremy Evans and Gordon Hayward.
Both players did a solid job in the minutes they were provided as offensive threats. Hayward shot extremely well at a 48 percent clip from the field and 47 percent from the arc in the 17 minutes a game of playing time he averaged, which ultimately led to 17 starts in his rookie year.
Evans shot an incredible 66 percent from the field, with most of those scores coming on alley-oop dunks from Earl Watson.
Referred to by Jazz commentator Matt Harpring as the Human Pogo Stick, Evans literally elevated the excitement level at Energy Solutions Arena with his leaping ability and "No He Didn't!" type plays.
The problem for both Hayward and Evans is they are slender players, with Hayward barely tipping 200 lbs. and Evans at what seems like a highly exaggerated 196 lbs.
If Jefferson can set a nastier defensive tone, these two players, despite their more slender frames, stand to benefit.
Poise and Intelligence
With seven years NBA experience and averaging 36 minutes a game last year, Jefferson has played enough to know that key players exhibit poise in the most critical of situations.
Al committed barely over one turnover a game last year. He was a calming presence and made smart decisions on a young and inexperienced team last year and will need to continue that.
Big Al's years of experience helped him develop this poise, which leads to smarter play on the court. When players know the game and know the team's system, they can play the game with more confidence in their ability to get the job done when it counts.
The younger players will learn this quality from him and as the Jazz become more competitive and find themselves in closer games with more critical moments where the young players have opportunities to step up.
Following Jefferson's lead will keep the young guys from making critical mistakes and choking in crucial situations.
Free Throw Shooting
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Karl Malone shot a measly 48 percent from the foul line his rookie year with the Jazz, but by the end of his fourth season he had improved, and he finished his career at 74 percent. Malone proved that with a lot of blood, sweat and tears, big men can become solid free throw shooters.
Al Jefferson is a career 70 percent free throw shooter who shot 76 percent in his first year with Utah. The Orlando Magic and any team that had Shaquille O'Neal can testify how frustrating it is to have a superstar big man who can't make it from the charity stripe.
Derrick Favors stands to gain the most from this example by Big Al; he shot 59 percent at the line. Jeremy Evans shot 70 percent while Hayward put up 71 percent, so both these players were okay from the line, but certainly could improve this aspect of their game.
Enes Kanter shot 68 percent at the stripe during his European career, so he too will be able to improve if he follows Jefferson's lead. If all these big kids can improve their shooting at the line, it will do wonders in catapulting the Jazz to a much more competitive status.
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Al Jefferson was a solid pickup at a reasonable price for the Jazz last season. He scored and rebounded and gave the team a presence in the paint to go along with promising Paul Millsap.
The team has since acquired a plethora of raw, young and potentially explosive group of big men who give the Jazz great depth and a terrific rotation.
Al Jefferson sets a great example of intelligence and consistency in the paint. He is a solid free throw shooter with years of experience who can set a more aggressive tone defensively.
This will greatly expedite the development of Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Jeremy Evans and Enes Kanter, which could do wonders in bringing the Jazz back to respectability.