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What's next for Al Jefferson?

big-al1.jpg Back on March 16th the Boston Celtics traveled to Dallas. In the midst of an exciting 5-point loss Al Jefferson pulled an impressive move out of his bag of tricks. He got the ball around 14 feet out, turned to face the basket, pump faked, pump faked again, drove to the middle of the paint, executed a 2 footed jump stop, pump faked, and then went up and under the defender for a lay up. DeSagana Diop had no clue what hit him.

Fast forward exactly one week and the Mavericks were in town to deliver the proverbial “worse than the final scored indicated”14-point beating. In the process Big Al went to the well again and executed an incredibly similar move. This time Diop rejected the shot and set up a Mavericks’ fast break basket. The two contrasting results beg the question, “Where does Al Jefferson go from here?”

To be fair one has to recognize how far Jefferson has already come. Legend has it he showed up at Logan Airport his rookie season in shorts and a Paul Pierce jersey. While the story may be apocryphal, it is definitely believable. Since then Jefferson learned the importance of ankle taping, participated in a proper lifting and conditioning program, and gained an understanding of nutrition.

Furthermore, he has cut down his fouls, learned to run the floor, and made strides on defense as well. The end result has been a breakout season highlighted by 15 points and 11 rebounds per game. And while Jefferson is widely regarded as a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season, it is fair to ask, what’s next?

There are the obvious areas to improve â€" free throw percentage (.678 this season) and defense. But Jefferson must improve his greatest strength, post play, as well. In particular three areas stand out.

big-al2.jpg For starters Big Al often holds the ball too long and allows the double team to swarm. He will at times compound this mistake by trying to fight through the defense instead of finding the open man. If that double team consists of Jake Voskuhl and “insert Bobcats defender” he has a shot. But it is less successful against the better defensive teams.

Secondly Jefferson occasionally spends too much time sizing up a defender, deciding whether to shoot over him or dribble drive. His moves become deliberate, predictable, and easier to defend. And finally Jefferson, like many of his teammates, has to learn how to operate when facing a zone defense.

Ultimately Jefferson is a scorer. As he continues to watch videotape, gains a better feel for the game, and begins to see plays unfold, it is not unrealistic to expect him to adapt as a player. In addition he must continue to approach the game with the right mindset. He will not sneak up on anyone next season, as teams will devote more effort to making life difficult for him. Also as his name enters into All Star discussions and he approaches a financial windfall, Jefferson will be faced with more pressure and distractions. Celtics fans can only hope that Jefferson continues along his current path.

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