NBA Preseason 2012-2013, Game 5:
Utah Jazz (3-1) @ Los Angeles Clippers (1-2)
Player Focus -- Al Jefferson
This is really going to be the biggest test for Big Al so far this season. In training camp he squared off against guys he knows that he owns in Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. And so far in the preseason he has taken it to "not- Andrew Bogut", "not- Kendrick Perkins", and "not- Dwight Howard". He hasn't been checked by a real, legit starting big so far this season. But that ends now, as DeAndre Jordan (and maybe even Ronny Turiaf too) will try to stop our primary scorer.
Even against sub-standard competition Jefferson hasn't had a spectacular preseason. In the four games he has played he's only averaging 9.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, and 1.8 apg. Surely, the largest factor in all of that is that he's only playing 22.0 MPG. However, if you boost that up to a PER 36 minute average, you get only 14.7 ppg and 10.2 rpg. In his entire career he has never averaged fewer than 15.7 points per 36 minutes, and is usually way above 10.2 rebounds per 36 minutes as well. These are the main two things we RELY on Big Al to produce regularly, and he's one of the most consistent guys on our team. So we need that from him.
Maybe it's because he's not getting enough shots? Big Al is only averaging 8.5 shots a game? Is that it? I don't know. I do know that out of all the shots he has taken, he has only shot 41.2 fg% from the field. We've seen him do a nice post move against Pau Gasol, and we've seen him take Cole Aldritch to the rack, but over all he's shooting worse than he's ever shot before. And he is shooting worse than he has ever shot before against the non-Starters. He's not struggling against Andrew Bogut, Dwight Howard, and Kendrick Perkins. He's doing this poorly against Robert Sacre types.
That said, Big Al is going to the free throw line two times a game (2.0), so there's that. In the playoffs he only went to the line 1.0 times a game. So he's doubled his playoff performance in this category.
Jokes aside, while Big Al isn't rebounding or scoring the way we want, he's doing other things well - and not all of it shows up on the box score.
Al is passing better. He's averaging 1.8 apg, and again, that's in 22.0 mpg. Bumping it up to starters minutes that's 2.9 apg -- which is a career high. Easily. His previous best in Assists per 36 minutes was 2.3, which he got with the Jazz last season. And that's precisely the type of thing we want to encourage and see more of from Big Al. Him passing more means we're sharing the sugar. And when we do that we're a harder team to defend, and defeat.
The largest improvement we've seen is on the defensive side of things for Jefferson. He's moving better, helping out better, and he's still stuffing everything in arm's reach. His CAREER BEST blocks per 36 for a season is 1.9. Right now he's averaging 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes. He's also adding 1.6 steals per 36 minutes. (Also a career high)
He's locked in on defense, and while he's playing less minutes than normal, he's BETTER than normal ever. These are career numbers for everything except rebounding and scoring. And with the best frontcourt in the league, Al's not going to have to do it by himself this year -- especially not with how well Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter are capable of playing on any given night.
The player focus for tonight is going to be a contract year Big Al. He hasn't yet had a big offensive game this year, and he hasn't yet played against a starting caliber center. Hopefully tonight he achieves both of those things while continuing to progress defensively and with seeing his team mates more. (Also, you should check out this post at HP from a Timberwolves fan who wrote about Al's improvement in passing -- shout out to Clint who directed this to my attention!)