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Player Review: Al Jefferson wasn’t a fit, nor was he fit

The 32-year-old’s slow-down, paint-centric game stood out like a sore thumb.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Per 36 minutes, Al Jefferson (surprisingly) averaged more points (20.7) and rebounds (10.7) in his bench role for the Indiana Pacers than he did over either of his final two seasons with the Charlotte Hornets. Yet, because his paint-centric game was equally as ill-suited to satisfy his team’s desire to play with pace as the roster’s lack of shooting was to meet his need for space, the Blue & Gold were (unsurprisingly) 7.4 points per 100 possessions better with him off the floor than on. Overall, the anachronistic center was minus-99 in 931 minutes of playing time.

How did Al Jefferson impress?

Despite his incredibly rocky start to the season, Jefferson actually managed to score more points per possession (PPP) on post up plays this season (0.98) as opposed to last (0.88). That mark only places him in the 78th percentile league-wide, but for many small-ball benches it was still enough to warrant sending double-coverage to him on the low block. Unfortunately, the clunky reserve lineups he played within essentially negated those types of shifts in gravity.

It begs repeating here that there really was no excuse for continuing to trot out the double-plodder, all-bench lineups once Paul George, C.J. Miles, and Thaddeus Young were all healthy enough to play. Per NBA Wowy, the Miles-Jefferson tandem wan’t a net positive per 100 possessions (minus-1.0), but it was a lot closer to breaking even than Allen-Jefferson (minus-10.8) and Seraphin-Jefferson (minus-4.2).

How did Al Jefferson disappoint?

According to Kevin Pritchard, the 32-year-old wasn’t in “great physical shape.” This was evident from the start of the season when he was routinely short-arming makeable shots, struggling to muster the energy to box out, and lagging behind the break.

Take this play against the Brooklyn Nets, for instance. Here’s the Pacers playing 4-on-5 while they wait for Al Jefferson to cross half court:

Missing the final nine games of the season with a sprain to his left ankle opened the door for Kevin Seraphin to permanently commandeer his minutes. With the slighter version of Al Jefferson manning the middle solo alongside Lance Stephenson running point and Aaron Brooks, Paul George, and C.J. Miles spreading the floor, the Pacers outscored opponents by a mammoth 25.5 points per 100 possessions over the final six games. Seraphin, no doubt, was the benefactor of Stephenson’s ability to feed him on the low block for soft hook shots, find him crashing hard toward the rim, and dish it back to him at the elbow. In fact, so much so that the Frenchman put up similar numbers to Jefferson at less than 20 percent the cost.

Though he was removed from the injury list prior to Game 2, Al Jefferson never saw a minute of action in the playoffs.

What’s next?

“Al (Jefferson) knows his issues,” Pritchard said on 1070 The Fan’s The Dan Dakich Show. “We’re going to work him really hard to get him back where he needs to be.”

That’s a start, but improving his level of fitness won’t matter if they don’t tweak the fit of the players with which they surround him. Otherwise, Kevin Seraphin can absorb his minutes, but he can’t erase his salary.

More Player Reviews:

C.J. Miles was whatever the Pacers needed him to be

Rakeem Christmas is tough to figure

Lance Stephenson lit a fire under the Pacers

Kevin Seraphin was misused for too long

Glenn Robinson III’s confidence grew

Paul George needed help

Aaron Brooks was too small

Jeff Teague needs someone like the guard he replaced

Lavoy Allen did what Lavoy Allen does

Georges Niang wasn’t given a chance

Myles Turner shouldn’t change what makes him special

Joe Young isn’t so young anymore

Monta Ellis was a square peg in a round hole