Lost in the shuffle of Indiana’s “lifeless” performance against the Hornets were the signs of life exhibited by Charlotte’s former center, Al Jefferson. Given that his new team was already down 18 points to his old team when he first entered what was mostly a non-contest, it was easy to overlook that the lumbering big man had finally found his smart post-game and soft touch in the same city where he left it.
Rather than leaving easy bunnies short at the rim, getting blocked from behind, or missing point-blank putbacks while appearing to be in desperate need of an oxygen tank, the 289-pound plodder recorded his first double-digit scoring effort of the young season highlighted by a crafty up-and-under move against Spencer Hawes and effortless reverse-pivot around Cody Zeller.
Fortunately, his rhythm carried over into the next contest against a less familiar opponent. Over the last two games, Jefferson is among the league leaders at the center position in points per post touch and points per paint touch.
Of course, it should be noted that, unlike the other big men atop these two lists, Jefferson is competing mostly against reserves. Still, it is a sigh of relief that the 31-year-old is slowly starting to roast less experienced and/or skilled talent.
Here, Philadelphia’s Richaun Holmes, at age 23, is no match for Jefferson’s full repertoire of savvy post moves, as the veteran fakes a jump hook before ducking under.
It is possible that Jefferson’s improved efficiency may also be the product of him finally beginning to get his legs firmly underneath him. The anachronistic center looked tired and, quite frankly, old against the Brooklyn Nets. As can be seen below, the struggle to muster the energy to block out Brook Lopez while keeping pace with his teammates’ breakneck speed was real.
Big Al will continuing to lag behind the break is likely guaranteed, but it is certainly a positive sign for his stamina that he scored ten points on 70 percent shooting in the second half against Philly while playing nearly twelve consecutive minutes. It also seems significant that many of the same shots he was routinely short-arming are suddenly starting to fall.
“Since the season started, I’ve been getting my shots,” Jefferson said of what’s working for him offensively following Thursday’s practice. “It’s just for whatever reason, they’re not going down. Plus, double-teamed and getting fronted in the post. But, tonight (against the Sixers) I just got in a great rhythm, and I’m going to try to keep it that way now.”
Aaron Brooks replacing Joe Young at the helm of the bench lineup has been of help to Jefferson as well. The former doesn’t seems to suffer from tunnel vision near as much as the latter. Over the last five games, a team-high 30.4 percent of Jefferson’s passes received have come via Brooks.
Tellingly, prior to the former Most Improved Player’s return from a sore right knee, Young never recorded an assist to Jefferson and hasn’t since.
However, as encouraging as it is that Al Jefferson has begun to resemble himself, it is equally discouraging that his resurgence has coincided with an uninspired road loss and slim overtime win over the winless Sixers. Two games is a minuscule sample size, but it appears that Al Jefferson has found his identity, now it’s up to the Pacers to do the same.