I'm starting with him. I'm doing so because it's hard. So much has been said about him—a lot by myself. Yet I'm writing about him anyway—because I'm writing about everyone and everything as we approach the next season.
And it's hard for me to write about him. It's hard for me to think about him positively. I get called a hater, and though I bristle at the accusation I understand where the accusation comes from. It's hard for me to even think about his place on the team next year, what I hope he can do, what I think he can do …
I'll be honest. I've given up hope that he'll be anything but the guy we saw last year. After 2010-11, I believed that his post-Trade production represented his peak: that while he would likely sustain that general level of play for a few years, that would be his ceiling. And I invite anyone to look at his post-Trade 2010-11 stats and compare them to 2011-12. Thus far, it's been pretty true.
And so I have a hard time believing that a big leap is just around the corner. Think of all the reasons we have hoped Al would get better:
- Playing with an elite PG for the first time
- Playing for an elite coach for the first time
- Playing in a winning culture for the first time
- Playing with teammates who had established themselves as winners
- Playing after an amazing off-season at P3
- Playing with guys who make terrific cuts
- Playing with an elite defender in the front court
Remember when everyone predicted Al Jefferson would beast last year? That it would be his best year yet? That his conditioning and attitude would help him just kill it? Then he turned out to be the same. A few things declined. A few improved (most noticeably his passing). But his overall production was pretty much the same.
At some point Waiting for Godot seems more fulfilling than waiting for Al Jefferson. And so I have a hard time hoping that a second year at P3 will be the difference-maker. Or having some legit 3-point shooters (one of whom is the same legit 3-point shooter that was his teammate in Minny). Or having a different elite defender next to him in the front court.
No … I believe Al Jefferson is who he is.
And so when I'm thinking about the upcoming season, when training camp is fast approaching, when my mind is supposed to be filled with hope for great things this year … what do I do with a guy that I have no hope will be any better? And what am I supposed to think and feel when he will be taking playing time from two guys who are likely to make big leaps this year?
It's true that he does contribute a lot. It's true that he was the most consistent player on the team last year. It's true that he was a major part of our team making a surprise run to the playoffs.
At the same time, there are also some other, uncomfortable truths about him:
- The biggest problem of the Jazz last year was defense. Any major improvement in team performance will stem from fixing this. Yet Al is both the root of the defensive problems and the player least likely to improve.
- To improve its offense, the team needs to score more efficiently . Yet the most efficient shots are hindered by the stagnant offense … and Al is the root of the stagnant offense.
- Al played worse with an elite teammate (a PG, no less)
- Al has played his best when his teammates were weakest (Minny pre-Love & Jazz post-Deron/pre-emergence of C4)
And so I'm back where I started. Disliking a player more than I ought, yet also finding so many legitimate reasons to believe he's not as good as his role suggests.
I don't know what the answer is. I can cite stat after stat after stat about this guy, and I still don't have any answers. I've hoped and been disappointed and finally given up.
And it may not be fair to pin all my fandom disappointments on this guy … at the same time he's the cause of a lot of disappointment. He's the guy who couldn't figure out how to play with Deron Williams. He's the guy who couldn't learn the plays. He's the guy who runs into Hayward while "defending" the P&R. He's the guy who can't rotate to protect the paint. He's the guy everyone expected to produce like an All-NBA player—everyone from the front office to coaches to teammates to fans — and he's the guy who's yet to show he can even come close.
In the end, I don't know how to reconcile it all. He's not a terrible player. Yet I also can't bring myself to invest any more fan-emotion into him. Like everyone, I hope my team is stronger this year than it was last season. Particularly this time of year, that hope for better what sustains us. Hope is our Wheaties on the morning of the big test—it gives us what we need to make it through the long season, and it's what brings us back year after year.
And I don't think he'll be better. Improvement will come, I believe, in spite of him rather than because of him.
What is a fan supposed to think or feel when this is what he believes about the team's main cog?
I just hope he's not in the way. I hope he doesn't pass on his bad habits. I hope the team doesn't sacrifice brilliant play from others because they're too focused on giving Big Al his 20 shots per game.
Sorry everyone. When it's Al Jefferson, it's the best I can do.