Times for the Charlotte Bobcats have definitely changed for the better. First-year head coach Steve Clifford has led the franchise to its second playoff berth (43-39 on the year) since its expansion in 2004, finishing the year 20-9 after the All-Star break. Credit must also extend to Michael Jordan, and the front office. They have done a great job establishing a solid unit. Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Gerald Henderson are a few of the young talents that were drafted to the team, developing into rotation players that have led to their playoff run.
The biggest move, however, was the offseason signing of veteran big man Al Jefferson. Charlotte signed Jefferson for three years and $40.5 million. The 6’10″ center brought the team an interior presence and scoring touch that they sorely lacked last season. It’s certainly safe to say that Jefferson has lived up to his contract, thus far. He managed to average a double-double on the year at 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Jefferson was one of five players to post an average more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in the regular season, along with Kevin Love, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and LaMarcus Aldridge. The names mentioned are some of the best big men in the NBA, and Jefferson deserves to be in the company. Also, the 43 wins (second-most in team history) are an indication of the team’s growth from last year’s 34-win season, and Jefferson is a big reason for the improvement.
Entering the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Bobcats secured the seventh seed, and will face the league’s defending champion in the Miami Heat. Known for their small-ball execution, the Heat have struggled against teams that counter their attack with size. Most notably, they have had a hard team against Indiana Pacers’ center Roy Hibbert. Jefferson offers a much more potent attack, with his skills on the low block. In a March 3 matchup against the Heat, Jefferson did plenty of damage against a front line that includes Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen, and Udonis Haslem. Despite a loss, Jefferson posted 38 points and 19 rebounds.
His season average against the Heat in four games was 25.3 points and 15.8 rebounds. Jefferson is best at posting up, and surveying the court, then using his strength to convert near the basket. His 50.8 percent shooting on the year are an indication of his knack to get touches around the rim. Jefferson is no shooting big man, but he shows comfort stepping out to take jumpers from mid-range. He could prove to make the Heat interior defenders expend a lot of energy containing his different skills. Miami may opt to blitz Jefferson with double-teams, but if his guards are scoring the ball, he will be allowed to isolate defenders down low, and work one on one.
It should definitely be a task for the champions to prepare for an opponent like Al Jefferson, and for the budding star, he will be looking to take full advantage of the opportunity to make some noise on the playoff stage. Sunday will be an interesting game to watch, and Jefferson certainly has the ability to make it one.