It’s time to talk about Al Jefferson’s defense


The Utah Jazz have had a tough road trip. They lost all five games on the trip, gave up 96 or more points in all five losses, lost to the 76ers, Wizards, and Nets, and lost to the Celtics and Lakers by a combined 53 points. The team’s record is currently 27-18, but their win margin is only half a point, and the team is projected to finish with a 44-38 record. (Remember all those incredible fourth-quarter comebacks the Jazz had earlier in the year? That’s not exactly a sustainable strategy for winning.)

So what’s wrong with the Jazz? Deron Williams is playing as well as he ever has. The Flex offense is still humming, and the Jazz average 24 assists per game, the 2nd-highest mark in the league. Overall, the Jazz have the 11th-best offensive efficiency in the league, which is a slight drop-off from last season (the Jazz were 8th), but not bad at all.

The Jazz’s real problem has been their defense. Last season, the Jazz ranked 11th in defensive efficiency. This season, they rank 2oth. There are a number of reasons why the Jazz aren’t playing as well defensively as they did the last season, but the biggest one is likely Al Jefferson.

There’s a lot to like about Al Jefferson’s game. At 26 years old, he’s one of the few remaining pure post-up players in the NBA, and his jump hook is a thing of beauty. He’s capable of scoring from the block in a way that most young players simply aren’t taught to anymore, and that’s why he was the centerpiece of the trade that got the Celtics KG.

However, no team has ever been able to play decent def,ense while starting Al Jefferson, and that hasn’t changed now that Jefferson is in Utah. Starting in the 06-07 season, when Jefferson first became a starter for the Celtics, here are the number of points per 100 possessions Jefferson’s teams have given up when he was on/off the floor:

06-07 Celtics: 108.5 with Jefferson/102.8 without Jefferson

07-08 Timberwolves: 116.0 with Jefferson/103.9 without Jefferson

08-09 Timberwolves: 112.3 with Jefferson/113.2 without Jefferson

09-10 Timberwolves: 113.1 with Jefferson/111.2 without Jefferson

10-11 Jazz: 112.0 with Jefferson/101.3 without Jefferson

As you can see, the only teams that didn’t play significantly worse defense with Jefferson on the floor were the 08-09 and 09-10 Timberwolves, and that was only because they were so bad defensively Jefferson wasn’t able to do much damage. +/- is a very dangerous stat, but Al Jefferson has started for six seasons for three different teams, and all of them have played horrible defense when he is on the floor.

None of this disputes anecdotal evidence, either: Jefferson can block shots, but he’s extremely slow-moving on defense, doesn’t expend much energy on that end, and has long been considered a defensive liability.

For some reason, team’s have always been willing to overlook Jefferson’s defensive shortcomings because of his offensive gifts. Given that Jefferson is an unwilling passer who isn’t actually a very efficient scorer (he settles for a lot of outside jumpers and longish hook shots, and rarely draws fouls), it’s unclear why fans and teams continue to hold Jefferson in such high regard. Jefferson is clearly talented, and still only 26 years old, but needs to make some serious changes in his game if he wants to be a key contributor on a playoff contender.

Stephen Curry leaves game with knee injury

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In his first night back from an ankle injury that forced him to miss six games, Stephen Curry limped off the court not to return after in third quarter Friday night after JaVale McGee fell into his knee.

He limped to the bench then eventually to the locker room after the injury.

The severity of the injury is not yet known and should become clear on Saturday after an MRI.

Curry scored 29 points and grabbed seven rebounds before being forced to leave the game, and the Warriors held on to win the game.

Obviously, if Curry is out heading into the playoffs, that changes the dynamic in the West, where the Houston Rockets were already right on the heels of the Warriors.

Pacers use late surge to beat Clippers, close in on playoffs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 28 points and the Indiana Pacers used a late 9-0 run to hold on for a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, putting them on the precipice of clinching a playoff spot.

The Pacers won for only the second time in five games but can clinch a playoff berth with one more win or a Detroit loss.

Los Angeles’ fading playoff aspirations were dealt another blow. The Clippers are now three games behind Utah for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. Utah was playing later Friday.

Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 27 points and DeAndre Jordan finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Clippers lost for the fifth time in six games.

They certainly had a chance to turn things around.

After the Clippers rallied from an 18-point deficit to take an 88-87 lead with 7:36 left in the fourth quarter, the teams traded the lead 10 times before Victor Oladipo made one of two free throws to leave it tied at 100 with 2:17 to play.

Bogdanovic broke the tie with a 12-footer and the Pacers followed that with seven straight points before Williams made a layup with 12 seconds left to end the run.

The Clippers were making shots early but couldn’t pull away from Indiana.

They led 28-27 after one and allowed Indiana to use a 9-2 spurt midway through the second quarter to erase a six-point deficit and take a 40-39 lead.

The Pacers scored the final five points of the half to break a 53-all tie and broke it open early in the third when Oladipo made his first three shots of the game, including two 3-pointers to make it 66-55.

Indiana then poured it on. Thaddeus Young‘s layup with 9:02 left in the third made it a 12-point game. Milos Teodosic‘s basket briefly halted the run, but the Pacers scored the next nine points to make it 75-57 with 6:19 to go.

Los Angeles closed the third quarter on a 12-5 run to get to 82-76.


LeBron James throws touchdown pass like Cleveland fans hope Sam Darnold can

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Cleveland fans can only hope Sam Darnold is as good a passer as LeBron James.

And that his receivers are better than Jose Calderon. Or at least taller.

LeBron James grabbed a rebound and threw a perfect touchdown pass to a leaked out Jose Calderon as the Cavaliers went on to beat the Phoenix Suns Friday night.

🙌🏽 @kingjames 🎯 @jmcalderon8 🙌🏽

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By the way, LeBron made a nice dish to the returned Larry Nance Jr., too.


Report: Rockets to waive Brandan Wright

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Finally healthy, it was easy to see where big man Brandan Wright would fit on Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets — he’s an athletic big man who can get up and down the court, he knows how to finish lobs above the rim, and could provide some front line depth behind Clint Capela and Nene. That’s why the Rockets picked him up in February after he was bought out by the Grizzlies.

It didn’t work out that way. Wright played in one game with Houston before his sore knee forced him to shut it down. He has not played since.

The Rockets are moving on, waiving Wright and bringing in forward Le’Bryan Nash out of the G-League on a 10-day contract, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

With center Brandan Wright unable to return from his knee issues this season, the Rockets will release Wright, who signed as a free agent last month, a person with knowledge of the move said…

He had a minor procedure and will work on his rehab with the Rockets staff, the individual familiar with the plans said.

 “Brandan did everything positive,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He just wasn’t physically able to hang in there. We hate it that the guy isn’t part of this.”

Wright has played in just 28 total this season averaging 5 points and 3.4 rebounds in 13.6 minutes. He’s battled knee issues for a few seasons now and has not played more than 28 games in the last three. If healthy he can help teams, but we’ll see if he ever gets back into the NBA.

The Rockets use Ryan Anderson as their backup center, using Nene less of late, although how much D’Antoni can use Anderson in the playoffs due to his defensive challenges remains to be seen.

Nash, who played a season at Oklahoma State, will get his first taste of the NBA. He was a highly recruited kid out of high school, and this season has averaged 8.5 points in 19 minutes per game for the Rio Grande Vipers this season.