Whether or not you love the Al Jefferson signing for the Bobcats, you have to admit that he gives the Bobcats an upgrade in the frontcourt. If you disagree, let's setup a game of two-on-two, play it up to 21, with the teams being Byron Mullens and Tyrus Thomas versus Cody Zeller and Al Jefferson. Okay, that's probably a bit ridiculous but you get my point. Heck, the team may not be as well off as they could be at this point, but they certainly are better off than they were last season. At any rate, Al Jefferson is back in my life -- for better and worse -- and he will certainly have an impact on the team's strategy, as well as on their young players.
While he may give it all back on defense, Jefferson is a very capable low post player who is adept at creating his own shot in the post. This will be helpful to a Bobcats team that struggled with the balance of scoring on their roster between their front and backcourt. Offensively, Jefferson can help the Bobcats improve in two areas they struggled with last season: the pick 'n roll and points off of offensive rebounds. Per MySynergySports.com Jefferson ranked 59th in points per possession with 1.00 (Good, not great, but good.) The Bobcats on the other hand averaged 0.84 PPP, good for 28th in the NBA last season. Jefferson's PPP off of offensive rebounds topped the Bobcats team average, 1.12 against 1.03, which is very good.
Jefferson will also give the Bobcats a consistent rebounder in the frontcourt in addition to Bismack Biyombo. Before tearing his ACL in Minnesota he was a 20-10 player and ever since he's been a 20-9 guy, so he will clean the glass as well. Between himself, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Biyombo, the Bobcats should be able to put forth a formidable rebounding trio on the floor on many nights.
However, adding Jefferson will come at a price, namely the crucial developmental minutes for Biyombo and Zeller. The Bobcats may have to figure out which combination of the three starts on a given night based on matchups. For instance, if the Bobcats need size they might roll with a Zeller-Jefferson power forward-center combo since Cody stands at 7'0" while Biyombo is just 6'9. This isn't ideal since you'd like to see both Biyombo and Zeller get the minutes they need, but they can still make this work where they get most of the minutes they require.
Such a setup could benefit both players more than one where the team attempts to start two developing big men at once. For instance, Jefferson has a tendency to command double teams in the post, freeing up an open look for a teammate. This could mean open looks at the rim for Biyombo or open jumpers from Zeller that help diversify the team's attack. Even for Kidd-Gilchrist, this may free him up to score in a manner he prefers, such as cutting, instead of being asked to create on the perimeter. In fact, Jefferson came to Utah with the reputation as one of the league's largest black holes but once he began to open up to the pass more, the team saw its greatest success.
There's the caveat: those Jazz teams were successful and his Timberwolves teams were not, directly influencing Jefferson's willingness to share the ball. In fact, Jefferson was quoted saying this shortly after his arrival in Utah: "When I was in Minnesota when I had that reputation of not passing the ball, it was kind of like if I didn't (shoot) it nobody was going to do it," Jefferson admitted. "Now I've got guys around me. It's common sense. Double team, pass it out.
So, you see here the dangerous part of Al Jefferson, right? If Al decides that him shooting over double or triple teams is a higher percentage shot than kicking it out to the open teammate, then the Bobcats might be in trouble. Well, unless Zeller, Biyombo or MKG are going to crash the offensive glass consistently, but that's a lot of expectation against even the more average frontcourts. Of course, this scenario requires Jefferson to regress back to the player he was in his Minnesota days, which is possible if the team hits a slump, and suddenly Jeff Taylor looks to much like Sasha Pavlovic and decides to call his own number on offense. And as we know, good ball movement is a trait of a good team while also being contagious, so it could be bad news if Jefferson returns to the ball-stopper he once was.
As for the rest of the bench, this makes it less and less likely that we see as much of Brendan Haywood and Josh McRoberts. While Haywood comes with a meager price tag of $2 million per year, this likely forces the 33 year old veteran who struggled mightily in his first season in Charlotte to the end of the bench. If you're worried about Jefferson taking valuable minutes from a prospect, then you sure would hate to see Haywood do the same since he can't really shoot or rebound anymore. I'd say they could trade him, but to do that you have to have value and I'm not sure Haywood has much more trade value than I do. At worst, Haywood and McRoberts give the Bobcats depth in a position of weakness. Think about it: they took two starters from last season's team and made them backups; that's progress in my book.
Although I can see a few potential problems that could stem from this signing, there is also the upside that they can afford to bring along their frontcourt prospects more slowly than in past seasons since Jefferson is capable of shouldering the brunt of the scoring load in the paint. Defensively, they'll have to work as a team to hide Jefferson's lack of ability on that end, but hopefully Al adds enough extra possessions through rebounding to further mitigate this issue on his own. Whether he declines his option after year two or his contract expires three years from now, the Bobcats may be hoping that Jefferson can bide their developmental staff some time to turn Zeller and Biyombo into valuable contributors. Much like we don't know Zeller's future, it's hard to say just how this will play out with Al Jefferson. If he's able to aid the team's growth, then great! If not, this will likely wind up being considered as a waste of time for all of those involved.