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

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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.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.