With the NRL regular season drawing to a close and my Tigers set to make the playoffs for the first time since that magical 2005 run, that along with the NFL pre-season (I’m a 49ers fan, having been born in San Fran to a Niners fan dad and all) my sporting attention was nowhere else.
Until I got a call from my mate Fish.
“Bro, I need some blog material, you reckon we could talk NBA shit for a while?”
“I don’t know, man…”
“I’ll buy the beers.”
And like that, our collaboration began for this series of articles we discussed over the customary beers a night or so ago (Coopers and Corona for me, Tooheys and Hahn Light for him).
Just to explain Fish’s qualifications: he’s been my best mate ever since I moved to Australia nearly 12 years ago now, he’s a die hard Kings fan (and since he’s also goes for the Cronulla Sharks, Oakland Raiders and Manchester City, he’s the only man alive more qualified to talk about sporting futility than me), a gentleman and a scholar. By gentleman I mean drunk, by scholar I mean he took the HSC exams stoned and still got good enough marks to get into business school.
When we were throwing around ideas, in the end we found ourselves each giving our 2c worth on all the major off-season acquisitions made by each team which we decided to spin into a series of articles for each of our own purposes (in his case his blogs, in my case NBAMate). I don’t know about him, but I hope to get these done before the start of the NBA season.
(Just a note – most of the time I’m not gonna be pointing out who said what cause I can’t be fucked. Just assume all good ideas are mine and all bad ones are his, cause if you don’t like it that’s how I’m gonna pass the buck anyway).
The first article I’m doing is on the trade which sent Al Jefferson to Utah (using the trade exemption they received from Chicago for Carlos Boozer) in exchange for Kosta Koufos, a couple of draft picks and a similar exemption to Minnesota.
It’s hard to see a way where Utah aren’t viewed as utterly raping the Timberpuppies in this deal. They get a 20/10 player for a stiff who won’t even get playing time in Minnesota, which is pretty much the ultimate insult these days. If I wasn’t a point guard I’d like my own chances of getting PT in Minny right now. Hey, what am I saying? Kahn will sign me, I’m a point guard! How about it, dude? Kahn? KAHHHHHHHHN?. The firsts Utah gave up will probably be pretty late anyways, where (exceptionally deep classes like 1999 or this recent one excepted) making picks can be a crapshoot.
However, other talking heads are going even further. This isn’t just a good deal for Utah – it’s gonna apparently be the deal that finally puts them over the top in the West. And this is where we both disagree.
Let’s do a little analysis of Al Jeff as a player. Everyone knows what he’s good at – as I mentioned he’s a consistent 20/10 threat, he’s got a great scoring touch in the low block, he commands a double team in the paint unless your big man is Dwight Howard (always useful when your other big is most effective when he’s spreading the floor), he rebounds well at both ends and, at just 25, he’s still got room to grow and develop. Playing alongside a top-3 PG in Deron Williams should help him do just that. Plus, Utah haven’t had a true back-to-the-basket big man since Karl Malone – Boozer, for all his strengths, wasn’t a bruising post player as much as a finesse guy.
However, there’s a reason Utah got him for 5c on the dollar and it’s not purely that David Kahn is a nitwit. (I love that word. I’m gonna bring it back. Say it to yourself. Nitwit. Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!). For all his strengths, Jefferson has notable flaws as a player. He’s a very poor defensive big man in almost all regards – he couldn’t protect the rim if his life depended on it, he struggles against quicker/more athletic/stretch bigs and isn’t even that much of a low post defender despite his size and bulk.. He’s spent his entire career on losing teams and possibly developed the bad habits that come with that. He often seems to fall in love with the mid-range jumper even though he’s not very good at shooting it. And he’s not a good passer.
Out of all his flaws, the last one is the most worrying for Utah fans. Even considering that he was pretty much the go-to guy in Minny over the past couple of seasons, Jefferson continually showed an unwillingness to pass out of the low block and often instead chose to take a poor shot while double teamed. In the Minnesota triangle offense, Al Jeff frequently struggled with the kind of ball movement that offense required.
This would be a problem for any team, but probably none more so than Utah. Jerry Sloan’s mutant flex offense (this is one area where Fish and I disagree. I consider the Utah offensive scheme to be a flex system. Fish, who admittedly watches far more college basketball than I do, reckons that the Utah scheme isn’t a true flex offense in the way that Gonzaga University run the flex. I’ll defer to him on this one by calling it the Mutant Flex) really calls for a high basketball IQ big man who can pass the ball to keep movement going, be effective off the pick and roll and can both set and use screens.
Right now, Al Jeff can’t really do any of the three. The latter two, however, aren’t as worrying – a guy can learn how to run pick and rolls (Especially with Deron Willians as PG) and use/set screens effectively.
However, being a good passer is a totally different skill. It may sound like a cliché, but the best passers are born, not made. Old school, back to the basket big men who have that passing touch are rare as hell. Al Jeff isn’t one of them. Boozer, while being more of a finesse big guy, had the basketball IQ to function well in the Utah offense. I don’t think Al does.
Which is not to say that it was a bad deal by any means. With the loss of Boozer, Utah looked likely to miss the playoffs outright and leave a disgruntled Deron Williams. Jefferson should at least keep them in the playoff hunt for the next few seasons until Deron walks to greener pastures (I’m picking the Lakers in a post Kobe, post Fisher world needing a new superstar). Any time you can get a piece like that while only giving up a couple of worthless picks and Kosta Koufos, you do it.
Just don’t believe the hype that Al is the piece that makes the Jazz true contenders. Halfway through the season when he’s struggling to understand the complex Utah offense, you’ll see what I mean.