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Al Jefferson and a return to the playoffs

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Al Jefferson went from overpaid big man to franchise great in one incredible season.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Al Jefferson was never supposed to come to the Charlotte Hornets. Entering the summer of 2013, Charlotte had plenty of cap space, and they wanted to go out and use it well. After all, the franchise was coming off two straight years of consistent losing, and among that stretch was arguably the worst season in NBA history. It just seemed unlikely that a player like Jefferson would be interested in going to Charlotte considering their recent history, but he did anyways. Whether it was Michael Jordan, the money, or maybe a chance to have an offense built entirely around him. Jefferson chose Charlotte as his destination, and everything changed for the Bobcats.

Jefferson wasn't just good for Charlotte.  He was one of the best players in the NBA kind of incredible that season. He dominated in unconventional ways, and it changed the entire team as a result. Nobody dumped the ball down low to a big man and let him work in the post anymore, because that no longer was a successful strategy against top NBA defenses, but it worked for Big Al. He ate opponents alive, and consistently led the team in scoring on a nightly basis. For the first time in years Charlotte had a player they could give the ball to asking for a bucket, and he would deliver every single time.

As Jefferson had a career season, the Bobcats had a year that would go down as one of the best in the young franchises history. Behind their defense, and incredible coaching by Steve Clifford, Charlotte managed to become one of the toughest outs in the NBA. Teams would go up against the Bobcats, and it would be a slog every single time. Playing against them would just wear teams down, and as Charlotte started to hit their stride late in the season, the rest of the NBA stood no chance by March. The Bobcats were playing their best basketball ever, and a huge part of it was due to Al Jefferson.

As Charlotte found themselves in a race for their second playoff spot in franchise history, the Bobcats also noticed the incredible play of their big man and wanted to make sure the entire NBA knew about it. They started a fantastic campaign for "Big Al's paint" in an effort to get him nominated to one of the All-NBA teams.

While the campaign did eventually "work", everybody knows that Jefferson earned his spot on the All-NBA team. He averaged 21 points per game 10.8 rebounds, and shot over 50 percent from the field. He was dominant on a nightly basis, and finished the year with a pretty amazing shot chart.

Al Jefferson 2013-2014 shot chart

62 percent at the rim, and at least average everywhere else near the rim. There was no way to stop Big Al that season, and it was honestly one of the most impressive single seasons ever from someone to play in Charlotte.

However, what might be the most impressive feat of Jefferson's career so far in Charlotte is his performance in the playoffs. Going up against LeBron James, and the title favored Miami Heat, Al Jefferson led seventh seed Charlotte into the playoffs with the goal of getting their first postseason win in franchise history. Of course, an upset would have been nice, but nobody was expecting that. Unfortunately, early on in Game one, Big Al suffered a foot injury, and without Big Al the chances at a playoff run were pretty much zero. Except, Jefferson didn't let that stop him. Big Al played through a very painful foot injury the rest of the series, and still averaged 18 points per game. His efficiency may have dropped like a rock, but his performance through injury was absolutely incredible.

It's moments like this that have put Jefferson among the all time greats in Charlotte franchise history. Even when comparing him to the days way back when, with the original Charlotte Hornets, Jefferson's numbers still stand up to players like Alonzo Mourning. Add in a gutsy playoff series, and he sits right up there with Zo in single season debates.

Jefferson's All-NBA year was one of those season's that was just fun to watch and be a part of. Something that fans can debate 10 years from now when discussing all time great seasons in franchise history and Big Al's legacy with the team. A legacy that is not quite finished yet.