Al Jefferson’s career is a mixed bag of great numbers for himself and subpar results for his teams.
The Jazz big man is a double-double machine, able to score in the post and crash the boards with an efficiency few can match. When the Jazz acquired him from Minnesota in 2010, many saw it as an upgrade over the older, departed Carlos Boozer.
Jefferson, however, has also been to the playoffs just twice in his career. His most recent trip was as Utah’s main offensive piece in 2011-12 — which earned the Jazz an underwhelming eighth seed and first-round sweep to the Spurs.
With little team-wide improvement made this year, the Jazz appear headed toward a new era, one with younger big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter taking the soon-to-be-free agent’s place.
Jefferson’s reputation both among NBA circles and league fans is varied. Some focus on his stellar presence in the paint. Others look at why his teams have never contended with him as the main cog in the offense.
If Jefferson himself feels such an assessment is unfair, he need only look at another once-undervalued big man’s path to respect: Zach Randolph
Like Jefferson, Randolph paid his dues off the bench for two years before exploding as a double-double man in the post (Big Al put up 16.0ppg and 11.0rpg in his third year, Randolph 20.1ppg and 10.5rpg).
Like Jefferson, Randolph’s personal production didn’t mean all that much when it came to team success. Like Jefferson, Randolph made the playoffs just twice in his first nine years in the league.
And like Jefferson, Randolph bounced among three teams in those first nine years, highly touted upon arrival and gladly rid of upon departure.
Until Randolph landed in Memphis.
The former member of “Jail Blazers” era in Portland didn’t erupt with a career year with the Grizzlies. He didn’t average career highs in scoring or rebounding. Yet somehow, incredibly, Randolph’s “attitude problem” — as well as the whole team-can’t-win-with-him issue — disappeared.
Why? Randolph simply found the right fit (5:15 mark of video below).
It helped that Randolph’s teammates fit around him, as well. Gritty defenders. Willing passers. An identity.
Jefferson, on the other hand, is on a Jazz team stuck between the present and the future, with both sides boasting depth and similar skills at the same position. Utah appears to be leaning towards youth, a decision that apparently has them willing to risk letting Jefferson leave via free agency with nothing in return.
Assuming he does leave, the 28-year-old Jefferson will likely net the longest and most lucrative contract of his career.
For Jefferson, a player whose true value is still unanswered, the fit may be just as important as the money. Playing alongside a frontcourt player whose skills complement Jefferson’s — rather than duplicate them — could do wonders. Just look at what playing with Marc Gasol (instead of Eddy Curry ) did for Randolph.
In the end, it was Randolph’s teammates, not Randolph himself, that made him more valuable..
Don’t be surprised if the same holds true for Jefferson.