The Indiana Pacers, in what has been an otherwise quiet start to free agency, have reached agreement with Al Jefferson on a three-year, $30 million deal, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical.
Jefferson, who missed 35 games due to a left calf strain, suspension, and having undergone arthroscopic surgery to address a tear in the lateral meniscus of his right knee, embraced his role as Charlotte's reserve center behind the more mobile Cody Zeller upon returning from injury on February 19 last season.
"I've been telling people all week I kind of like coming off the bench," Jefferson told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. "You kind of see how the game is going and you get to play against the backup center most of the time. You kind of know what you need to do or what you shouldn't do, and I kind of like it.
Since the Pacers have already communicated their belief that Myles Turner's best position long-term is at center rather than power forward, Jefferson will need to be equally accepting of what will likely be a reserve role in Indiana.
With multiple scoring options among the Blue & Gold's projected starting lineup, Jefferson would be more free to unleash the full repertoire of his smart post-game and soft touch as a focal point of the second unit. Last season, no big man in the league feasted on post-up plays more frequently than Jefferson (52.2%), minimum 300 possessions.
However, Jefferson's move to the bench last season did not necessarily result in greater efficiency against lesser talent. While his usage rate consistently hovered around 24 percent both before and after his return to action in mid-February, his true shooting percentage improved only slightly from 49.3 percent to 51.7. Additionally, despite gobbling up seconds of the shot clock isolating on the block, he only placed in the 63rd percentile league-wide on post-up plays, scoring 0.88 points per possession (PPP). The accuracy of the old school center's go-to hook shot has also started to decline the last few seasons:
On the other side of the ball, his lumbering 6-foot-10, 289 pound frame and lack of lateral quickness will be less of a liability against reserve centers, as the Hornets were actually 9.1 points per 100 possessions better when Jefferson's big body was taking up space in the lane as opposed to him being on the sidelines post-knee injury. Still, the opportunity cost of adding Jefferson is losing Ian Mahinmi's superior mobility and rim protection.
All of which brings into question how exactly Big Al's slow down, paint-centric game satisfies either of Indiana's desires to play with greater pace or space, when he isn't a new age center and over 60 percent of his offensive game comes within ten feet of the basket. Adding a starting caliber big man presumably willing to backup Myles Turner on a $10 million annual salary appears relatively cheap in comparison to what Timofey Mozgov garnered overnight, but not if he doesn't fit the team's stated vision at age 31.