During this active offseason a lot of controversy has surrounded Al Jefferson. The Celtics' promising young big man was the subject of potential trade rumors during the pre-draft KG hype, but public outcry for him to stay was overwhelming and may have ultimately helped to keep him in green.
Whether or not that proves to be a wise move remains to be seen, but there is no arguing about how talented a low-post scorer Jefferson is. In an era when big men are "diversifying" their offensive repertoires and becoming more perimeter oriented, Jefferson's true low-post ability is both rare and exceptional.
The recent Herald article by Steve Bulpett was a well-timed piece because of how polarizing and popular a player Jefferson has become. Doc Rivers was spot on in his assertion that the young big man is being over-hyped by many in Celtic nation. Danny Ainge was also correct to point out that Jefferson’s ability and acumen for offense is special for one so young.
Jefferson has a substantial amount of work to do before he can be considered a franchise player. No one is professing that he’s "arrived" by any stretch. But he certainly has some things to be excited about in terms of being a featured offensive option. Jefferson’s ability to become a primary offensive option for this team is a central element to his development. There may be players who score more efficiently or do more off the ball the Jefferson.
However, the ability to serve as a focal point on the offensive end and draw extra defensive attention may be one of the most important functions a low-post scorer can provide. A dominant back-to-the-basket threat can completely befuddle even the stoutest defensive fronts. As long as the interior player can adequately identify the double teams and get the ball moving, he has the ability to improve the offensive efficiency of his entire team.
For a team that has a long ways to go defensively, sometimes the best defense is a lethal half-court offense. The Celtics also have a lot of work to do as well before they can be considered a legit contender, but the continued development of Jefferson should help to establish a strong base to build off of.
Let's take a look at a couple of the league's other low-post threats, courtesy of Synergy Sports Technology. The "NBA%" is how a player rates relative to his peers in each category-Excellent, Very Good, Good, Average, Below Average, Poor. Dwight Howard represents the stalwart of the Eastern Conference 8th Seed. Tim Duncan, the NBA Champion:
Dwight Howard: Overall scoring effectiveness is Very Good, NBA% 70
- Single Covered in the Post (48.5% of his offense)
- Offensive Rebounds (15.33% of his offense)
- Shots off Cuts (12.67% of his offense)
- Doubled Covered in the Post (11.34% of his offense)
- Transition (5.18% of his offense)
- Pick and Roll as Roll Man (3.85% of his offense)Gets most of his shots in the post (10.7 possessions per game, Average, NBA% 40)
Tim Duncan: Overall scoring effectiveness is Very Good, NBA% 80
- Single Covered in the Post (40.69% of his offense)
- Doubled Covered in the Post (11.89% of his offense)
- Pick and Roll as Roll Man (11.4% of his offense)
- One on One/ISO (9.8% of his offense)
- Shots off Cuts (8.27% of his offense)
- Offensive Rebounds (6.86% of his offense)Gets most of his shots in the post (11.6 possessions per game, Very Good, NBA% 69)
Al Jefferson: Overall scoring effectiveness is Very Good, NBA% 66
- Single Covered in the Post (50.37% of his offense)
- Offensive Rebounds (12.45% of his offense)
- Shots off Cuts (11.45% of his offense)
- Doubled Covered in the Post (6.96% of his offense)
- Pick and Roll as Roll Man (4.85% of his offense)
- One on One/ISO (3.75% of his offense)Gets most of his shots in the post (9.6 possessions per game, Very Good, NBA% 71)
Howard is a more efficient overall scorer if you consider all the points each score, but the difference is quite small. However, when looking at how they score, Jefferson is substantially superior in post scoring to Howard. Both players take a majority of their scoring attempts in the post, where Jefferson has a sizable advantage. Howard relies on all his other tricks to beef up his efficiency-offensive boards, basket cuts, etc.
If you're looking for a basket in the post when setting up in the half court, Al Jefferson to date is by far the favorite. This has nothing to do with how they may develop in the future, but Jefferson is the superior post scorer with Howard being the more efficient overall scorer.
If you're looking at roles and game strategy, the numbers to date show that Al Jefferson is a more effective "go-to" guy on offense that Howard at this time because of his substantial advantage over Howard.
Comparatively, Tim Duncan is superior offensively to either Jefferson or Howard in terms of pure scoring efficiency. However, when in the post Jefferson actually holds a slight edge. These numbers also don't reflect the substantial increase in productivity that Jefferson had from the first half to the 2nd half of the season, which would probably push his offensive numbers to even greater heights.
It’s important to remember how much of the offense is structured around Duncan when thinking on offensive efficiency and post scoring. But Jefferson spent a sizable portion of last season as the Celtics primary offensive option as well and was the central player the opposition focused on stopping. The team was not successful in terms of wins and losses while Jefferson was the "last man standing" on an injury riddles squad, but they did enjoy a nice late season burst when Paul Pierce returned and lent some perimeter support to Jefferson’s devastating interior game.
The one glaring thing that is missing from this analysis is of course defensive impact. Despite numerous statistics that try and track defensive tendencies there really is no great statistical measure for defensive impact because of the amount of rotations and switches that take place during the over 80 possessions a team plays on the defensive end.
Until Jefferson improves his defensive ability substantially he isn't going to be anywhere close to the player Duncan is and Howard could be. But, as far as Jefferson's offensive ability as a "go-to" scorer, the sky's the limit. At only 22 years of age, the future is all in front of him. This doesn’t mean the team around him will be sufficient to ever deliver the much desired "Green 17", but it is something to consider going into next season-the first that features three legit scoring threats of a star caliber in quite some time.