This story originally appeared on Swarmandsting.com, a Fansided blog. It was written by ISH founder Daniel Zimmermann.
The glorious smile of Big Al Jefferson has lit up Time Warner Cable Arena for two seasons now. The Big man in the middle has played fantastically for a team that really needed a guy like him.
He came over to Charlotte two summers ago, signing a 3 year, $41 million deal that had a player option on the last season. The seasons were cut into three equal pays of $13.5 million a year, making it a base, flat deal.
To say Jefferson has outplayed that bargain of a deal would be an understatement. Big Al was one of the worst All Star snubs in NBA History last season, where he led the then-Bobcats to a seventh seed in the playoffs off the heels of 21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game.
Now in his second season with Charlotte, injuries and inconsistency have bogged down his play quite a bit, with his averages having 5 points and 2 rebounds shaved off of his averages.
But no, that isn’t the reason I am writing this article. I know that many of you Charlotte diehards may think this article crazy, but hear me out.
Jefferson is still a top talent at the center position in this league, and he is still a premier NBA star. That much is true.
But his fit on Charlotte is inhibiting the team from reaching its true potential.
Why? What is Big Al doing wrong?
Absolutely nothing. The only thing wrong with him is that he is a big part of the offense.
“What? What do you mean?” is probably what you are thinking right now. But it makes sense.
Listen, a guy like Big Al produces when he gets his touches. He produces a lot most nights, therefore he gets a lot of touches most nights.
What ends up happening is Charlotte gets trapped in a slow halfcourt offense that disallows them from playing the game they thrive in, which is running the fastbreak and playing fast.
Speed is the only thing Charlotte has over a lot of teams. They aren’t the biggest, or the toughest, or tallest, or the most skilled. They don’t have the best shooters. They can’t drive the lane every possession.
But they do have some masters of the fastbreak.
Kemba Walker and Mo Williams can pushpushpush the ball down the court at supersonic speed. The highflying and athletic Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Lance Stephenson, and (even!) Jeff Taylor can get out and run and finish the plays around the rim. Even big men Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams, and Bismack Biyombo are extremely athletic for their positions, allowing them to follow (or run) plays in speedball.
But the Hornets fail to achieve this game style of hardcore defense with a fast offense that catches you off-guard because of one guy, who just happens to be the number one scoring option on the squad – Big Al.
Jefferson has a team high 26.3% usage rate* for the Hornets this season, and had a massive 29.3% usage rate* last season. Those are just 12/9 percent below the all time leading usage rate in a single season! (That record goes to Kobe Bryant on his 2005-2006 Lakers team. Shocker)
It is hard to be an effective offense when over a quarter of your plays go to the same guy down in the block. Add in the fact that Jefferson’s offensive win shares are down by 50% from last year and his overall win shares have dropped from 7.8 to 4.8, and you know you have a problem.
I am not saying Al Jefferson sucks, or should be traded, or should be hated, or anything of the sort. But he is, inherently, based on his play style, holding the team back.
The way to solve this is simple. Al Jefferson has a player option this summer that he will almost 100% decline, making him an unrestricted free agent. This is only because this will be the 30 year old’s last chance to cash in on a big, long term contract, as he won’t want to take the risk of waiting until next summer, since just one injury could wipe out his market value.
All Charlotte has to do is watch. When Jefferson opts out of his deal this summer, they should thank him graciously, end the relationship on good terms, and let him be on his way without offering him a disrespectful deal.
But how will Charlotte replace him?
Well, if anyone is paying attention to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, there is one guy who plays the center position who has been making some noise…
That’s right you guessed it; Frank the Tank.
Frank Kaminsky is playing out of his mind this season, and according to DraftExpress’s latest mock draft (among others), he should fall right to the lottery struck Hornets.
The Hornets would be best fit drafting Kaminsky, or other impact bigs like Kristaps Porzingis or Jakob Poetl, if luck doesn’t go there way on draft day again.
But Kaminsky should be the goal, and the Hornets should be willing to trade UP to get him. He is the only one who can really come in and fill the hole that Jefferson will leave in the offense.
But it isn’t all about the shiny, new, young guy that the Hornets will bring in to replace him. It is more about the addition by subtraction that will occur if the Hornets don’t bring back the big guy.
Everyone loves and appreciates Big Al in Charlotte, and he may very well be the best player to ever wear a Bobcat jersey. It will be more than sad to see him go, but for a team stuck in a mini-rebuilding era, it is another casualty of the unforgiving business.
Charlotte can’t waste valuable contract years of MKG, Kemba, and Cody Zeller competing for 6,7, and 8 seeds. They may have to take a step back to take three forward, but in the long run changing up the style and not basing your offense off of one black hole of attention on offense is what is necessary to take the next step.
An estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor.
Stats via basketballreference.com and ESPN.com