Do the Jazz need to ‘fix’ Al Jefferson and if so, how do they do it?

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In a very thorough and open-minded post on the Jazz Blog SLCDunk, they’ve reached a conclusion that Al Jefferson is not nearly the player that Jazz fans want him to be or the organization needs him to be. This is going to run counter to what a lot of people outside of SLC tend to think about Jefferson, because, well, he’s a really good basketball player and we’re not pinning 35% of our hopes and dreams on him. (The other percentage is made of Paul Millsap 25%, Gordon Hayward, inexplicably, 20%, and Derrick Favors 20%.) The basic concept is that Jefferson’s defense is allegedly so bad, that he would need to be an elite scorer to justify his minutes and usage. So if that’s the case, how do you get him to elite scoring position without just having him throw the ball at the rim a bunch while Paul Millsap studies free agency?

 

From SLCDunk.com:

If we’re serious about playing Big Al big minutes in a contract year, and we’re serious about having him deserve those minutes, he’s going to have to be an Elite scorer.

And he CAN be an elite scorer if he: goes to the line more, and takes more shots where he makes them from.

It’s almost too simple.

To fix Big Al he needs to do more of what he’s good at. I could care less that he improved his fg% from 16 feet by 7%. He shot 68 fg% at the rim last year. He only shot there 4.1 times a game. That’s the problem on offense.

via NBA Elite Scoring, and being constructive about Utah Jazz Center Al Jefferson – SLC Dunk.

So the idea that’s presented is that Jefferson needs to get the ball on the cut, off the pick and roll, in simple dump-offs for quick scores, essentially making him a “quick-strike scorer” rather than someone you just feed in the post and let him do his thing, because what winds up happening is that he shoots from further out where he’s less efficient. That’s bad. It’s a weird kind of idea. Can you have someone who is your primary option on offense but who isn’t given the ball to create the shot he’s comfortable with and instead merely charged with finishing simple plays?

And that’s kind of the underlying tone of the piece, that this entire exercise doesn’t make sense, which is why Jefferson has to go as the Jazz have more and more decisions to make about their frontcourt in the future.

Now a few issues with this. One, I’m not willing to set sail on the Al Jefferson defense train of Hope yet. Big men tend to reach their fullest defensive potential much later than any other types of players. I’m not saying Jefferson’s going to morph into Serge Ibaka, but he can get to a point where he’s passable. In fact, the post mentions Dirk Nowitzki who is just fine in the way that Rick Carlisle has designed his defense. Second, it’s not like we haven’t seen Jefferson with the ability to score efficiently in the post. In truth, if you told me there’s a minute left in the game and one guy has to get the ball for the Jazz in a close game, I’m going with feeding Jefferson in the post. Guy’s money in the clutch, and I mean that in the scientific sense of the term.

But the blog is right in that Jefferson needs to become an elite scorer, and that means efficiency. But instead of trying to find him different spots or create a new model for an elite scorer, essentially extrapolating Tyson Chandler to 25 shots per game, instead the offense needs to improve so that doubles can’t come, and Jefferson can take advantage of mismatches. From there, it’s mostly a matter of Jefferson just… doing it. Sadly, no one can really control that, perhaps not even Jefferson, and that’s what makes it such a boggle for the Jazz.

I’m going to keep telling you, the Jazz are one of the most fascinating stories this season. They could detonate and hold a firesale, make the playoffs and go on a surprising run, anything. It’s a complex and nuanced situation that deserves your attention.

DeMarcus Cousins ejected after elbowing Russell Westbrook in head

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DeMarcus Cousins‘ history of flagrant fouls certainly didn’t help him here, but if anyone elbows a guy in the head, he’s going to get tossed.

And that’s what Cousins did here.

Midway through the third quarter in New Orleans, Cousins blocked a putback attempt by Russell Westbrook, then grabbed the rebound. Westbrook tried to reach in across Cousins’ body for the steal, and Cousins cleared out space with his elbow — right to Westbrook’s head. Cousins walked around saying “no, no, no” afterward, and he likely thinks the officials had it out for him here because he was just getting a guy off him, but we go back to the original point — elbow a guy in the head, get tossed. The league is cracking down on blows above the neck. Westbrook did not leave the game.

The Pelicans went on to come from 19 down to win the game 114-107, behind 36 points and 15 boards from Anthony Davis.

Damn, Paul George with the in-game bounce pass alley-oop to Jerami Grant

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The game has been close (as of midway through the third quarter), but that didn’t stop Oklahoma City from putting on a show in New Orleans.

Paul George had the ball on a 2-on-0 fast break and decided to throw the playground bounce-pass alley-oop, which Jerami Grant got up and finished with authority. This could be one of the dunks of the year.

We’re going to see that highlight for a while.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.

Celtics look to push win streak to 16 vs. Mavs

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DALLAS (AP) — The Boston Celtics aren’t yet halfway to the NBA record for consecutive victories, a mark the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers still hold, but at 15 in a row, they are in rare territory.

Since 1946-47, there have only been 35 instances of a 15-game win streak or longer. And of all the legendary Celtics teams, this squad already holds the franchise’s fifth-longest win streak. A victory Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks, who are an NBA-worst 3-14 overall and 2-8 at American Airlines Center, would tie the 1964-65 Boston team’s 16-game win streak.

If the Celtics (15-2) get the win, they would climb closer to the 1959-60 team’s 18-game win streak, and then comes the club mark of 19 in a row accomplished by the 2008-09 team.

This version of the Celtics has to be considered the most unexpected to string together so many wins. The team has a slew of new players, starting with guard Kyrie Irving, and Boston lost another prized newcomer, forward Gordon Hayward, in the season opener.

After starting 0-2, Boston hasn’t lost. Yet, it’s not exactly as if the Celtics are steamrolling the league. For the Mavericks, who are coming off snapping the Milwaukee Bucks’ four-game win streak Saturday, the fact that Boston has actually had to rally to get a handful of its wins must be seen as an opportunity to steal a decision.

In fact, four of the Celtics’ victories during the streak have come after Boston trailed by 16 points, including a 110-109 win against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

“Most of us have never been on a winning streak like this,” Irving said following the win over Atlanta. “I don’t know if we even know how to pay attention to all the hoopla that goes on in terms of the excitement of it. I just think that every single game we take it as a challenge.”

Irving has been accepting that challenge with tremendous success after asking to be traded away from Cleveland, where he won one title with LeBron James and lost twice in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors.

He closed out those same Warriors last week, scoring 11 of the last 15 points in the final 4:21. The clutch play has Irving already being talked about as an MVP candidate.

“He’s so good in those moments that you want to give him the appropriate amount of room,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told the Boston Globe about Irving. “Maybe it’s finding a matchup. Maybe it’s creating a two-man game with Al (Horford).”

Irving will be a major test for Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who has displayed some tremendous flashes while also showing he is a green 19-year-old with one season of college ball under his belt.

Dallas, one of the league’s lowest-scoring offensive teams, is relying heavily on Smith and Harrison Barnes to carry the load. Dirk Nowitzki, 39, has dropped off significantly, averaging just 10.3 points a game, his lowest output since his rookie season in 1998-99.

Unlike the Celtics, Dallas has lost its share of games by being unable to close out games late. On Saturday, the Mavericks won a rare game going away, blitzing the Bucks with a franchise-tying 19 3-pointers. Guard Wesley Matthews said he thinks all the hard work is starting to pay off.

The history-chasing Celtics will put that claim to test.

“We can actually see everything that we’ve been trying to do come together, and hopefully that just carries the momentum into the off day where everybody’s feeling good,” Matthews said after Dallas’ victory. “We’ve got another tough battle Monday against Boston, who is the hottest team in the league right now, but it’s another opportunity for us.”