FanPost

Al the Conqueror... or Not

Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

Amar’s post comparing Al Jefferson to other post up scoring options, both contemporary and historical, got me thinking. Jefferson may get more criticism than all the other current Jazz players combined, and that’s including Marvin Williams, Randy Foye, Jamaal Tinsley, and Earl Watson. I would never argue he doesn’t deserve any of it, perhaps even much of it; but I’ve always felt he doesn’t deserve as much criticism as he gets.

Amar’s post uses statistical comparison to other post scorers to debunk the argument that Jefferson is an old school, elite post scorer. His thorough examination found Al frequently wanting as a primary offensive post option. But all the time I was reading, I kept seeing how many other factors weren’t overtly addressed but still may have affected the final numbers.

One of the most glaring to me was how many of the post players he listed benefit from playing with elite or at least above average distributors. No offensive player is as dependent upon his teammates as a post scorer. This is one of the primary reasons Alex Len is so hard to project in this year’s draft (his guard play has been consistently lacking). How much of Al the Conqueror is really Al being Al, and how much is the Jazz wanting a Conqueror and poorly fitting him for the job?

To get an idea, I decided to look at how many of Jefferson’s baskets this year have been assisted compared to his contemporaries. By contemporary, I mean a team’s first or second scoring option who operates primarily out of the post. My assumption is the higher the assist rate on a player’s money shots, the more his teammates and the system in which they play help him to succeed.

The results are interesting, and do a lot to absolve Jefferson of at least some of the liability for his offensive game’s weaknesses. The following chart shows the percentage of assisted shots these 15 players have made at different distances as well as for different types of shots, some of which are more often used near the basket or in the post. I chose these players because they are first post options for their teams and either first or second scoring options overall, so they carry an offensive responsibility similar to Jefferson's role on the Jazz. (All data is from Basketball-reference.)

%Ast (rim)

%Ast (3-10)

%Ast (10-16)

%Ast (16-3 point)

Dunk

%AST

Layup

%AST

Jump Shot

%AST

Hook

%AST

LaMarcus Aldridge

.527

.280

.390

.802

.712

.509

.580

.367

Carlos Boozer

.649

.603

.660

.813

.818

.646

.711

.615

DeMarcus Cousins

.480

.314

.526

.625

.610

.448

.543

.341

Tim Duncan

.646

.477

.524

.934

.804

.664

.706

.286

Blake Griffin

.710

.476

.364

.709

.831

.588

.565

.393

Al Horford

.772

.655

.723

.859

.895

.760

.813

.447

Dwight Howard

.713

.627

.800

1.000

.782

.691

.647

.621

David Lee

.688

.550

.655

.897

.869

.689

.750

.507

Brook Lopez

.640

.577

.412

.810

.756

.652

.614

.530

Kevin Love

.489

.750

.400

.583

.875

.640

.705

.643

Greg Monroe

.525

.405

.462

.860

.737

.524

.699

.326

Nikola Pekovic

.653

.628

.444

0

.967

.701

.587

.650

Zach Randolph

.463

.495

.325

.661

.929

.515

.495

.650

David West

.654

.476

.579

.843

.895

.654

.633

.571

Average

0.615

0.522

0.519

0.743

0.820

0.620

0.646

0.496

Al Jefferson

.487

.410

.538

.766

.691

.442

.586

.368

Difference

-.128

-.112

+.019

+.023

-.129

-.178

-.060

-.128

This season, Jefferson’s FG% decreases the further he shoots from the basket: .725 at the rim, .442 from three to ten feet, .415 from ten to sixteen feet, and .396 from sixteen feet out. No surprise there. What may be surprising is just how poorly the Jazz have assisted Jefferson on his most efficient shots.

Among the 15 players listed, Jefferson has the 13th lowest percentage of his shots at the rim assisted, with only DeMarcus Cousins and Zach Randolph posting lower numbers. His shots at the rim are assisted 12.8% less than the average for this player population from that distance. That’s incredibly significant, especially when you consider Randolph gets a huge number of his points on offensive rebounds. That puts Jefferson in a Sacramento Kings class of offensive orchestration when it comes to helping him get point blank shots. (The Sacramento Kings class is bad.)

A similar trend emerges in the three to ten foot range, the area where any dominant post player needs to be able to punish a defense. Here Jefferson has the 12th lowest percentage of his shots assisted, with only LeMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins, and Greg Monroe posting lower numbers. His shots in this area are assisted 11.2% less often than his contemporaries. Aldridge is a shooter more than a banger, and so this isn’t really his spot on the floor, which again paints Jefferson as the beneficiary of a King's or Piston’s grade offense. (Again, that’s bad.)

I think we would all agree that Jefferson should be getting good shots inside ten feet. But the numbers suggest he’s having to get those shots on his own more often than almost all his contemporaries, which suggests having to shoot against an in-place defender. The only players posting similar numbers from these distances for likely similar reasons (Cousins and Monroe) are post up options on bad teams with bad ball distribution.

But maybe this is just another one of Jefferson’s innumerable faults. Maybe he ruins assists by catching the ball, holding it forever as his defender gets set, making a ballet move or three, and then shooting.

There may be some truth to that. But why, then, are such a high percentage of Jefferson’s ten to sixteen foot shots assisted? .538, or 1.9% more than the average for this population of players. In fact, Jefferson has a higher than average number of all his shots outside ten feet assisted, and a lower than average number on all shots inside ten feet. Does this mean he’s unwilling to shoot off the pass unless it’s a jump shot? I think it is far more likely that he is getting the ball in position to shoot more often for long shots. The shots he gets closer to the hoop he has to create on his own.

We see this by looking at the percentage of his dunks and layups that are assisted. In each case, only DeMarcus Cousins—beneficiary of the one-on-one symphony that is the Kings offense—surpasses the futility of the Utah Jazz offense in its ability to get its primary post option point blank shots.

To put this in perspective, the Karl Malone of 02-03 (the jump-shootiest Karl of them all) was assisted on 78.7% of his shots at the rim and 75% of his buckets inside ten feet. Jefferson is at 48.7% and 41% respectively. We all know Karl was maniacal about sudden dives and cuts to the hoop, and about holding position there once he had it. But those numbers also require ball handlers who got him the ball at the right time. Since Jefferson has been a member of the Jazz, that component of good play has been sorely lacking.

How much of this is really Jefferson’s fault? It’s impossible to say precisely, I suspect. His methodical, contact-averse style is definitely part of the equation. But the discrepancy between his assisted baskets in prime areas when compared to his contemporaries is too striking to ignore—as is the fact that Jefferson, through no fault of his own, has played with such a dearth of quality point guard play practically his entire career.

The following chart shows Jefferson’s assisted shots from the rim and ten feet as well as by dunk and layup for his entire career. (Again, from Basketball-reference.)

%Ast (rim)

%Ast (3-10)

Dunk %AST

Layup %AST

2012-2013

.487

.410

.691

.442

2011-2012

.549

.402

.808

.491

2010-2011

.533

.528

.797

.527

2009-2010

.406

.462

.667

.393

2008-2009

.472

.467

.676

.480

2007-2008

.488

.521

.680

.488

2006-2007

.550

.453

.646

.569

2005-2006

.531

.370

.724

.523

2004-2005

.500

.614

.679

.439

Career Avg.

0.502

0.470

0.708

0.484

He has only surpassed the average percentage on assisted baskets of this year’s primary post options in one category, and then only in a single year. That’s 35 below average marks and 1 above average mark, and that high point is only .006 above this year’s average for this population of players.

His career %Ast at the rim is 11.3% lower than his peers this year.

His career %Ast inside ten feet is 5.2% lower than his peers this year.

His career dunks assisted is 11.2% lower than his peers this year.

His career layups assisted is 13.6% lower than his peers this year.

Is this all attributable to Big Al? Or could it be that he’s spent his career on the receiving end of passes from Marcus Banks, Sebastian Telfair, Randy Foye, Jonny Flynn, Devin Harris, and Mo Williams?

The sad truth is Jefferson has only played with elite facilitators in tantalizing tastes that never came to fruition: 2006-2007, a season with a rookie Rajon Rondo splitting time with Sebastian Telfair, and 2010-2011, where life with Deron Williams, Jerry Sloan, and the perpetually winning Jazz degenerated into chaos. I don’t think it is a coincidence that this 2010-2011 season provided Jefferson with arguably his best-assisted post shots across the board, including the only instance of his breaking above average against this season's post players (assisted baskets inside ten feet)—and that in spite of a new team and system, disharmony, a coach who quit, and Deron Williams ultimately leaving the team via trade.

That was his high water season when it comes to getting help from distributors.

The numbers show that Al Jefferson is lacking when it comes to a first offensive option post presence. But they also show that his post offense involves a disproportionate amount of lone heavy lifting, and that isn’t purely an Al problem. The coaches should be getting their first option more of his best shots out of the offensive sets rather than simple isolation, and they aren’t. His teammates should be getting him shots in moments of significant advantage, and, too often, they aren’t. Both these factors influence the numbers that cast Jefferson’s offense in a bad light.

All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.

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