Big Al makes his case to remain on Jazz

Apr 19 2013 - 7:31pm

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Al Jefferson
Al Jefferson

SALT LAKE CITY --- Al Jefferson was in a playful mood Thursday as he cleaned out his locker for perhaps the last time as a member of the Utah Jazz.

The 28-year-old soon-to-be free agent told reporters he improved as a player and a teammate during his three seasons with the Jazz.

"I love the city of Utah," he said, channeling Karl Malone. "It's a great city."

And when quietly reminded of his geographical foul, Big Al rebounded nicely.

"Salt Lake -- sorry," he said. "I love the city of Salt Lake, though. It's a great place. I love (that you can) stay out of trouble and focus on your game. The fans, the people here, it's like a big, happy family."

Of all the decisions Utah's leadership will make this summer, perhaps the top of the list is whether or not to re-sign Jefferson and/or teammate Paul Millsap.

Jefferson said he would like come back and raved about their young core of players, in particular 20-year-old center Enes Kanter, whom Jefferson gave the nickname "Big Turkey."

The fact he became so comfortable with his teammates -- around the locker room, on the team plane and on the court -- indicates Big Al's growth as a player.

"When I came here, I was just coming to help glue this team together," he said, referring to the 2010 trade that sent him to Utah in exchange for Kosta Kofous.

Jefferson was coming to help fill the offensive void left by power forward Carlos Boozer, plus be a running mate to All-Star point guard Deron Williams.

But in the coming months Williams' relationship with then-coach Jerry Sloan became strained and he was eventually shipped to New Jersey. That left an odd and awkward situation in the locker room and Jefferson was asked to help straighten it out.

"Then I became more of a leader," he added. "I wasn't coming in expecting that. I was coming in just doing my part, trying not to mess up. Coming in and being one of the leaders on this team showed how I just worked my way up."

Playing in the final year of his contract, Big Al averaged a team-high 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds last season.

He also shot 49.4 percent from the field and averaged 2.1 assists per game, the second-best mark of his career (surpassed only by last season's 2.2 per-game average).

If Jefferson honed any skill during his three seasons with the Jazz, it was the ability to pass out of the post.

As a rookie with the Celtics during the 2004-05 season, he recorded just 24 assists; the following season he got to 30 and the next year he jumped all the way to 88.

During the 2010-11 season -- his first in Utah -- he recorded 149 helpers. This season, he notched a career-high 164.

Granted, nobody is likely to mistake his assist numbers with those of Hall of Famer John Stockton. Still, he had never averaged more than two assists per game before coming to Utah.

"The system -- the Jazz offensive system -- really teaches you to play," general manager Dennis Lindsey said. "Al went from, literally, last in the league (in assists), pre-Utah Jazz, to one of the better passing centers in the league."

Lindsey acknowledged one of the knocks on Jefferson is that he sometimes slows down an offense with his deliberate play in the post.

"Now, you may get some arguments he holds it too long or that the offense bogs down," he said. "But, really, if you look at Al's assist ratio the last two years I think he's been in the top five for centers."

During the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Jefferson's assist-to-turnover ratio was 2.16, tops in the league among centers who started more than 60 games and averaged more than 30 minutes per contest.

His assist-to-turnover rate this season was 1.56, third-best among centers starting 70 or more games and averaging at least 30 minutes a contest.

Jefferson said those numbers have increased his marketability around the league.

"I think I have showed that I'm not just a black hole I had the reputation of (being) a few years ago," he said. "And, hey, I lived up to that thing. But I hope it showed people I can do other things and I'm working my butt off every year to try and get better and better."

 

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