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Big Al's Arsenal Continues To Improve and Impress

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A Daily Babble Production

From a big-picture standpoint, I can write this piece with no frustration because the Boston Celtics are and always will be the NBA's 2008 champions, largely as a result of a trade they made in July 2007.  I can write this piece on this particular day with a similar lack of annoyance because the Celtics held on for a 109-101 victory when the Minnesota Timberwolves came to town yesterday. 

No matter what happens from here on out, I feel confident in saying that I will never for a second regret seeing the Celtics make the trade that sent Al Jefferson away as part of a package to bring Kevin Garnett to town.  Watching Big Al continue to progress comes with no bitterness attached, and the enhancement of his offensive game leaves me more impressed each time I watch him play.

That arsenal was on display throughout yesterday's 34-point performance on 15-of-21 shooting from the field for the former green prospect.  But it wasn't just Jefferson's sheer volume of scoring and efficiency that was striking so much as it was the variety of ways in which he found the bucket.

During Big Al's final season in Boston, he earned praise for beginning to develop what many termed a herky-jerky game in the paint.  That has only gotten better, as he has become adept at getting from the block right into the midst of the lane and then using a jump-stop and up-fake in combination.  The up-fake has become especially potent, as Jefferson has little trouble using it to either draw fouls or simply coerce defenders way out of position.  The former result gets him to the foul line, from where he has improved in every season in the league and is now shooting nearly 75 percent this season.  The latter earns him easy finishes on dunks and lay-ups.  We saw the up-fake earn Al both the foul shots and dunks yesterday.

His touch around the basket as well as the range to accompany it are advancing as well.  Al still uses that baby hook with his right hand that he worked on in Boston.  But as Tommy Heinsohn noted on Sunday's broadcast, he has supplemented that move with something of a floater as well.  He looks comfortable using it from anywhere inside the foul line.

When he goes outside the paint, Jefferson is continuing to gain more confidence in his mid-range jumper.  We saw him take a few of those last season when the Celts went to Minnesota as well.  It is still the least reliable part of Big Al's offensive attack, but for a guy who had very little touch when he entered the league, that he is developing his shooting at all is an important step toward making him an even more dangerous multi-dimensional threat.  While he needs to improve his accuracy from the wings and elbows, Jefferson also splashed in a couple of baby jumpers from just a few steps off the baseline.

The more time Big Al spends as the featured option in Minnesota's offense, the more comfortable he grows.  He looks calm handling the basketball, and his turnovers are down from last year to 1.8 per game, with 10 centers in the league averaging more.  He is also posting a career-low 7.8 turnover percentage, down from the 9.4 times per 100 possessions he gave the ball away last season.  

Jefferson is making a home for himself in the post, and as Tommy also noted yesterday, he now possesses the ability to put the ball up right away off the catch.  He made a nice play early in the first half on which he caught an entry pass with his right hand with his back to the basket and turned right into that baby floater move before his defender could adjust to the fact that he had the ball.  Just one more nicely executed move in a complete offensive day for the 24-year-old.

While it would be nice to see more evidence of the same commitment at the defensive end that he has made offensively, it remains a pleasure to watch Al Jefferson grow as a player.  He showed every indication of being a good guy and promising ball player during his days in Boston, and he was for a couple of down years our primary bastion of hope for a better future.  With the Celtics currently enjoying that better future and fans of the green maintaining year-round homes on cloud nine, it's nice to be able to watch Big Al from afar without any agitation or wistful thoughts of what might have been.  Our reality is more than beautiful enough, and seeing Al get better and better individually is in some regards just a nice cherry on top of it all.