Big Al Jefferson was just that for the Bobcats last year: big. When Charlotte brought in the former Jazz big man last summer, many analysts thought they overpaid him with a three-year, $41 million contract. However, he proved worth the deal with a Third Team All-NBA season. The question for this year will be: can he repeat it?
First, let’s figure out how he did it.
In terms of offensive production, Jefferson actually took more shots from 16 feet to the 3-point line than he has on average throughout his career. Oddly, he wasn’t even efficient from that area last season, despite the overall increase.
So what did change? Well, there are two specific stats that were up last season, and that might give us a glimpse into how Jefferson can replicate his All-NBA caliber season.
First, Jefferson’s percentage of assisted field goals were way up last season compared to the rest of his career. A whopping 61.1% of all his field goals were assisted, which means that the Bobcats did a great job not only getting him the ball, but getting it to him in advantageous positions.
Part of Jefferson’s success, and increase in assisted field goal percentage, can be attributed to playing alongside Josh McRoberts, who showed last year that he is one of the better passing big men in the league. Charlotte was able to craft a bunch of sets with the offense running through McRoberts in the high post or on the perimeter. The extra space and great passing that came from those often led to more efficient shots for Jefferson.
So will that change now that McRoberts is gone to Miami? Well, maybe not. New wing free agent Lance Stephenson showed in Indiana last year that he can be a good shot creator. And the same uptick in assisted field goal percentage happened last year with Indiana big man Roy Hibbert. A career-high 57.8% of his shots were assisted last year, and when you look at Stephenson’s jump from 2.9 assists per game in 2012-2013 to 4.6 per game last season, there might be a correlation there.
As I wrote a couple weeks ago, the Hornets will be looking to replace McRoberts’ production in a variety of places – Lance Stephenson creating shots and Marvin Williams spacing the floor with his shooting. It is possible that the Hornets can manufacture the same situation with Jefferson and the rest of the offense that they had last season, and Clifford has talked about trying to do that very thing.
The second statistic that jumped for Jefferson last season was his usage percentage. Defined by Basketball-Reference, usage is "an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor." Put simply, how many possessions ended with an Al Jefferson shot? Last season, it was a career-high 29.3%.
To put that in perspective, Jefferson finished the 7th-most of his respective teams possessions in the NBA last season (1,000 minute minimum), ahead of players like Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, and James Harden. Charlotte really relied on their big man to score points, and he did not disappoint them.
Typically, when usage goes up, efficiency goes down. And that wasn’t entirely false for Jefferson. He was still very efficient last season, with a 22.7 PER, but it wasn’t the best of his career. However, high usage players certainly have offensive value – someone has to finish possessions with a shot, and Jefferson is Charlotte’s best player to do so. It is very useful to have a player that can get a high-efficient shot at any point.
So are things going to change? Will we see the same Jefferson as last season? The Hornets have no reason to think otherwise. Clifford has stressed this offseason about needing more perimeter shooting, but that won’t necessarily mean a decrease in Jefferson’s usage. In fact, even more spacing could be a good thing for Big Al. Can we see another Third Team All-NBA season from the Charlotte big man? My answer: why not Second Team?