Duke Basketball: Amile Jefferson Proving to Be Blue Devils’ Biggest X-Factor

Let the headlines from Duke’s 10-point victory over Connecticut talk about Jahlil Okafor’s double-double or Tyus Jones’ 21 points. The real X-factor in the win—and the season as a whole—for Duke was Amile Jefferson.

Jefferson finished with 11 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal on the day and was even 5-of-7 from the free-throw line. He was there on the opposite block any time Connecticut threw one of numerous double-teams at Okafor and helped clean up the glass on both sides of the floor.

He and Okafor also both forced Connecticut’s big man, Amida Brimah, into early foul trouble, which changed the game for the Huskies. Brimah ended up with zero points and a single rebound and eventually fouled out after scoring 40 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in his last game. 

Adam Rowe of 247Sports noted that Jefferson’s efforts were critical in the victory:

Jefferson’s impressive play Thursday night highlighted just how effective the Duke frontcourt can be when he is on his game. Both Okafor and Jefferson ended up with double-doubles and helped the Blue Devils outrebound the Huskies to the tune of 43-27. Duke had a distinctive advantage down low, which helped set the tone for the entire game.

Jefferson’s presence also took some of the pressure off Okafor when those double-teams forced him to get rid of the ball early in possessions.

It is no secret how effective Okafor is going to be all season with an NBA skill set and the ability to score against almost any defender in the country, dominate on the boards or drop in timely passes when double-teams come his way. If Jefferson can play as well as he did Thursday, the Blue Devils will have one of the best one-two punches in all of college basketball down low.

A dominant frontcourt from the Blue Devils should terrify the rest of the ACC, considering how much depth Duke has in the backcourt. Jones, Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Matt Jones and the versatile Justise Winslow are all marquee cogs in the Duke machine and will share plenty of the scoring responsibility with Okafor.

The primary reason why Jefferson is so important to Duke’s national title hopes is the lack of frontcourt depth behind Okafor. That becomes all the more apparent in games when Jefferson struggles because the Blue Devils don’t have many other answers down low.

Marshall Plumlee is the only other big guy on the roster outside of the two starters playing more than 10 minutes a game, and Mike Krzyzewski has used a small lineup at times this season with versatile players like Jefferson and Winslow covering plenty of space and making up for the lack of frontcourt depth.

Jefferson can even play the center spot in those small-ball looks because of his athleticism and size combination. His quickness got him to the free-throw line a number of times Thursday and allows him to get past defenders off the dribble or use his speed to get to rebounds before opponents.

That type of explosiveness next to Okafor’s strength and ability to dominate gives the Blue Devils frontcourt multiple looks and skill sets.

The frontcourt performance was particularly critical Thursday night because the backcourt had serious issues dealing with the pressure defense that Connecticut is known for every time it takes the floor. In fact, the Blue Devils turned the ball over 22 times, including five for Sulaimon, four for Okafor and three each for Cook and Tyus Jones.

Ryan Boatright tallied four steals and hounded the Duke ball-handlers all game, which was at least some good experience before ACC play for Tyus Jones in particular. Still, the struggles with the press were concerning and kept the Huskies in a game that Duke should have easily won.

Alas, Jefferson’s performance helped stop the turnover bleeding and get the win.

What’s more, Duke fans have been treated to some early improvements from Jefferson compared to a season ago. His points per game, field-goal percentage, rebounds, free-throw percentage and minutes are all up from a season ago, which is encouraging and the telltale signs of an upperclassman turning the corner.

Jefferson’s improvements go beyond just the stats, though.

He looks more comfortable on the floor as a natural part of the offense and is also moving around on defense with Okafor stuck on the opponent’s best big man most nights. That is helping Jefferson grab more rebounds almost every night.

Ultimately, Jefferson is the X-factor for the Blue Devils because of the overall roster makeup. He doesn’t get nearly the attention that Okafor, Jefferson, Jones or even Cook or Sulaimon do, but he is incredibly important for a team that doesn’t have much frontcourt depth behind its superstar, Okafor. 

Jefferson gives Duke an all-important second option down low, versatility in the lineup choices and an athletic presence who can take some of the pressure off Okafor. The Blue Devils will need him if they plan on cutting down the nets at the end of the season.

 

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WATCH: Nets’ Jefferson embarrassingly airballs shot

Brooklyn Nets reserve forward Cory Jefferson may have shot the most embarrassing airball in NBA history during the opening minute of the fourth quarter in Wednesday night’s game in Chicago.How bad was it? Jefferson took a 12-footer…from 25 feet away. It has to be seen to be believed:With shots like that, it should be no surprise that the Nets were blown out by the Bulls 105-80. But it could be worse for Brooklyn. At least they’re not the worst team in New York. H/T FTW.
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Daily NBA fantasy: Al Jefferson movin’ on up

Al Jefferson’s hefty price tag is justify for Sunday’s daily fantasy basketball action.

      
 

 

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Duke Basketball: What Amile Jefferson Will Bring to 2014-15 Blue Devils

With so much excitement surrounding the incoming freshmen in the Duke basketball program, it is easy to overlook the key returnees—like Amile Jefferson—as the 2014-15 season approaches.

However, Jefferson is a critical factor in any ACC or national title hopes that the Blue Devils hold this year.

Sure, it’s no secret that Jahlil Okafor is going to drastically change Jefferson’s role on this year’s team. No longer will the junior be the one consistent big man in Mike Krzyzewski’s rotation or be counted on to anchor the interior defense.

After all, Okafor could be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft, and he has the potential to be a double-double machine who controls the glass and leads the ACC in scoring because of his ability to carve out space with strength and superior footwork. Okafor will also be a critical piece in Duke’s defense as a shot-blocker.

Okafor has the potential to be a star, but Jefferson will still play a significant role as well.

Jefferson started 26 games for the Blue Devils in 2013-14 and averaged 6.5 points and 6.9 rebounds a night in 22.7 minutes of action. He also shot an impressive 64.4 percent from the field.

His impact was about more than just numbers, though, and he helped solidify two glaring areas of weakness for Duke.

The Blue Devils finished 193rd in the nation in total rebounds per game and No. 116 in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive efficiency rankings last year. Those numbers would have been significantly worse were it not for Jefferson’s contributions on the glass and as a help defender at the rim.

Ultimately, Jefferson was unable to mask those rebounding and defensive deficiencies enough to help Duke make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, but this team would not have earned a favorable seed or won as many games as it did without him there.

Jefferson’s role expanded throughout the course of the year as Duke’s one reliable big man, and the hope in Durham is that he will take another step forward with an extra year of experience under his belt.

Jefferson almost has a responsibility to become even better this year because Krzyzewski trusted him and Quinn Cook as the two team captains. Jefferson commented on the distinction, via Bret Strelow of FayObserver.com:

It’s the ultimate honor to be named a team captain. To think about guys like (Shane) Battier and (Jon) Scheyer, those captains who led the team – Mason (Plumlee), Ryan (Kelly). Just guys who knew how to set the ship and how to make the team go the way they wanted it to go.

So for me and Quinn, it’s a big honor and it’s time for us to be leaders. It’s time for us to demonstrate our leadership on and off the court. It’s something that I’m going to cherish forever.

That leadership action is the most important thing Jefferson can do this season, regardless of his play on the actual court.

Duke’s best three players this season could realistically be freshmen, so it will be imperative for the older guys to help them adapt to the college game, especially on the road.

Everyone in the ACC wants to take Duke down, and players like Jefferson will help the freshmen understand that they need to bring the same type of consistent effort, whether it is Wake Forest on the other end of the floor or North Carolina.

Jefferson will be a leader, but he will also be important as part of the big-man rotation.

He is the most experienced big on the roster and the best option down low this side of Okafor. Marshall Plumlee is good for some rebounding and interior defense, but Jefferson is much more versatile and has a higher ceiling.

That versatility is critical because Jefferson proved last year that he can anchor the team as a center, but he is more than capable of playing power forward because of his athleticism and overall quickness.

Sure, Jefferson may be the first one to fill in for Okafor if the freshman gets into foul trouble, but Krzyzewski will likely look to use his top two big men together throughout the season.

A Jefferson and Okafor combination would be lethal on the glass.

What’s more, if the Blue Devils need to run or a quick spark, Jefferson can be the center in a smaller rotation. Justise Winslow can handle the power forward responsibility in that scenario, which would mean all five guys could theoretically get out in transition and speed up the game for short bursts. 

Running should not be a problem because Jefferson is reportedly far along in the recovery process from his summer hip surgery and should be ready to go by the start of the season. Laura Keeley of The Raleigh News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer provided an update:

Ultimately, Jefferson’s true value comes in the form of his leadership. There are more talented players on this roster, but Duke will be heavily reliant on freshmen who need to understand that the Blue Devils always have a target on their back.

The youngsters will have to learn how to deal with raucous crowds and motivated opponents, and the best way to do that is with veterans like Jefferson leading the way. 

That’s why he is the captain.

 

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Lebron James Has Apparently Fixed His George Jefferson Hairline (Photo)

Lebron’s been oft maligned for his rather atrocious hairline for years now–consider it his Achilles heel, if you will.
But now, with the King back in his home castle, he had to get a new crown to get with the return.
Lebron was at a NIKE launch on Tuesday and with him was his new and improved hairline.
LeBron fixed his hairline pic.twitter.com/gqntfeHyLb
— Josh Dhani (@JoshDhani) September 17, 2014

What in the world…
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Jefferson, Bobcats power past Nets in OT, 116-111 (Yahoo Sports)

Brooklyn Nets' Jorge Gutierrez (13) and Andray Blatche (0) compete with Charlotte Bobcats' Cody Zeller (40) and Chris Douglas-Roberts (55) for a rebound during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, March 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Al Jefferson and the Charlotte Bobcats can’t help but sneak a peek at the Eastern Conference standings every now and again. ”I would be great to get in that sixth spot,” Jefferson said. The reasoning if obvious: It would help the Bobcats avoid a potential first-round playoff series with Indiana or Miami. For now, the Bobcats are the seventh seed in the East, but they’re gaining ground.


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Jefferson, Walker lead Bobcats past Nuggets 105-98 (Yahoo Sports)

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 10: Al Jefferson #25 of the Charlotte Bobcats shoots against the Denver Nuggets during the game at the Time Warner Cable Arena on March 10, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Charlotte Bobcats are getting used to big nights from Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker. Now, they have Gary Neal to throw into the offensive mix. The newly acquired Neal came off the bench and scored 19 points as the surging Bobcats won their seventh home game in a row, defeating the Denver Nuggets 105-98 on Monday night. Jefferson led all scorers with 26 points and Walker scored 24, but it was Neal’s work off the bench that may have made the biggest difference with Gerald Henderson out with a strained right calf muscle.


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Jefferson leads Bobcats past Pacers 109-87 (Yahoo Sports)

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 5: Al Jefferson #25 of the Charlotte Bobcats shoots against Roy Hibbert #55 of the Indiana Pacers during the game at the Time Warner Cable Arena on March 5, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)

Al Jefferson had a pretty good inkling it was Charlotte’s night when he banked in a 31-footer from well beyond the top of the key to beat the shot clock midway through the fourth quarter. ”I didn’t call the bank, but I trusted my right hand,” Jefferson said with a laugh. Jefferson scored 34 points and the Bobcats stunned NBA-leading Indiana 109-87 Wednesday night, handing the Pacers just their second two-game skid of the season. Jefferson was 16 of 25 from the field and had eight rebounds for the Bobcats (28-33), who won their fifth straight at home to equal their combined win total from the previous two seasons.


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Jefferson, Bobcats get rare win over Mavs 114-89

Al Jefferson scored 30 points, Anthony Tolliver added 22, and the Charlotte Bobcats earned a rare win over the Dallas Mavericks, 114-89 on Tuesday night.

The Bobcats had lost 17 of 18 against the Mavericks, but they scored 60 points in the paint and tied a season-high with 12 3-pointers to snap Dallas’ five-game winning streak.

Tolliver was 5 of 6 from 3-point range, and the Bobcats went 12 of 24 from beyond the arc.

Jefferson was 14 of 23 from the field and reached the 20-point plateau for the 14th time in 15 games. He has averaged 27 points per game during that span.

Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki sprained his left ankle in the second quarter and was taken to the locker room for observation. He returned in the second half and finished with 16 points in 25 minutes.

Charlotte’s rare – and relatively easy – victory came on the night it was announced that Bobcats owner Michael Jordan’s wife gave birth to the couple’s identical twin daughters.

Jordan’s spokeswoman Estee Portnoy told The Asso

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Can Al Jefferson Alone Reverse Charlotte Bobcats Losing Culture for Good?

The Charlotte Bobcats have been associated with losing and just about nothing else over the last few years, but that’s starting to change. 

Al Jefferson is behind the push, as he continues to dominate on offense while steering the ‘Cats into one of the eight coveted playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. There’s still plenty of work to be done and no guarantee of a successful venture into the postseason, but the very fact that we’re talking about something beyond the regular season is a step in the right direction. 

A losing stench has pervaded the Charlotte air for season after season. Losing is the status quo, and it’s created an unfortunate culture that leads to, well, more losing. 

But Jefferson has had enough of that. 

He’s starting to reverse that culture, and it’s a change that should last for a long time. 

 

Absolute Individual Dominance

Jefferson is just playing out of his mind right now. 

Over his last five games, Big Al is averaging an insane 29.4 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks. But it gets even more impressive, because he’s shooting 52.1 percent from the field while serving as the clear-cut No. 1 offensive option. 

Oh, and those averages include an aberration of a performance. 

On Feb. 1, Jefferson took on the Phoenix Suns and struggled his way to just 10 points and six rebounds on 4-of-15 shooting. And he’s still posting those per-game averages mentioned above. 

That’s what a 40-point masterpiece against the Los Angeles Lakers, a 35-point outing against the Denver Nuggets and a 30-point showing against the Golden State Warriors will do. 

Jefferson has become the centerpiece of the Charlotte offense in every way possible. He’s setting himself up on that left block and going to work, but he’s also made Steve Clifford come up with quite a few plays that give him the ability to move to that same sweet spot. 

I attended the Bobcats-Nuggets game and had trouble taking my eyes off Jefferson whenever Charlotte had the ball. Every play seemed designed to get him possession on the blocks, and there was nothing Kenneth Faried, Timofey Mozgov, J.J. Hickson or anyone else could do to prevent him from converting once he got it there.

Just take a look at that highlight reel and try to avoid having your jaw leave a dent in the floor. 

If anything, Jefferson is playing like an All-Star. Lance Stephenson and Arron Afflalo were bigger snubs in the Eastern Conference, but the big man’s name certainly belongs in the same category. Here’s what B/R’s Josh Martin had to say after Big Al’s domination of the Lakers on Jan. 31:

If there was any All-Star to be found in the building on this night, it was Al Jefferson. The Bobcats big man, who was “snubbed” out of a spot on the Eastern Conference squad, tied his career high with 40 points and, with his game-high 18 rebounds, sealed his third straight 30-10 performance.

But he’s not an All-Star, even if his numbers point toward him deserving such an honor. It’s a shame really, if only because this beleaguered franchise has had so few selections throughout its short history. In fact, Gerald Wallace, who made the All-Star squad in 2009-10, is the only player to receive that nomination. 

And let’s compare those seasons, per Basketball-Reference

  PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% PER
Jefferson in 2013-14 19.9 10.6 2.1 1.0 1.2 48.6 21.9
Wallace in 2009-10 18.2 10.0 2.1 1.5 1.1 48.4 18.3

Jefferson is quite clearly superior, though Crash’s defense deserves some credit. That said, the big man has been playing better than ever before on the less-glamorous end and actually has a lower defensive rating than Wallace posted in ’09-10.  

There’s a serious case to be made for Jefferson having the single greatest season in the 10-year history. 

Stephen Jackson is the only player to average more points per game as a Bobcat. Only Emeka Okafor beats him in the rebounds-per-contest category, according to Basketball-Reference

But it’s not just about what he’s done as an individual.

 

Playoff Culture

It’s been a long time since the Bobcats have been able to advance to the postseason.

In fact, the team has managed to do so only once in its decade of existence. The 2009-10 squad, led by Wallace, went 44-38, earning a playoff spot before being swept out of contention by the Orlando Magic. Yes, that means that the Bobcats have literally never won a game after the regular season.

That season also stands out in one more way, as it’s the only time the ‘Cats have ever earned a winning record. 

Ouch.

But both those ignominious bits of history have potential to be erased during the 2013-14 campaign.

The Bobcats are currently 22-28, which leaves them within striking distance of an above-.500 record. More importantly, they sit at No. 8 in the Eastern Conference standings, 1.5 games ahead of the Detroit Pistons in the race for the final spot in the postseason festivities. 

So long as Jefferson keeps playing this way, Charlotte should be considered the favorites to maintain its spot. Especially because the Chicago Bulls should eventually fall off the pace they’re currently on, as Tom Thibodeau has done a fantastic—and probably unsustainable—job maximizing talent. 

Jefferson has even admitted this is his goal, not making an All-Star squad. 

I’ve been disappointed by All-Star Games for years. I’ve stopped listening to the hype,” the center told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. “I know what I can do and my goal is to get Charlotte to one of those elite teams in the East. Into the playoffs.”

But what if the Bobcats make a trade? What if one of the many young players breaks out after the All-Star break? 

Then there’s an even better chance of Jefferson meeting his goal.

There are so many reasons to expect more improvement from this rising squad, and it’s already looking good from a statistical standpoint. Basketball-Reference shows that while Jefferson and Co. only score 100.6 points per 100 possessions (which is actually an improvement from the past), the team is allowing just 103.3 over the same stretch. 

That gives the team the No. 6 defensive rating in basketball, which is enough to keep them afloat. And believe it or not, that negative discrepancy isn’t too bad in the Eastern Conference. This is the same conference in which only four squads have outscored their opponents over the course of the 2013-14 season. 

“Playoffs” and “Bobcats” are words that haven’t typically belonged in the same sentence. That’s changing, and thanks to Jefferson that will only get more obvious in the future. 

 

Restoring Legitimacy 

The Bobcats have had a promising future for a little while now. Except that they’re, you know, the Bobcats. 

With plenty of young and promising pieces (Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeff Taylor and Cody Zeller), the ‘Cats could make absolutely no moves in the near future and still get better. They only become more promising when you remember that while they give up their own pick to the Bulls if they make the playoffs, they gain picks from the Portland Trail Blazers and Detroit Pistons if things go according to plan. 

The former is protected through No. 12, and the latter will be retained by Motor City if it falls in the first eight selections. Therefore, Portland’s seems guaranteed to change hands, and the Detroit pick would go to Charlotte right now, as the Pistons have the 10th-worst record in the NBA

Picking up an extra pick would certainly be nice, but it’s free agency that could suddenly be most promising. 

In the past, no one wanted to come to Charlotte. It was a place where NBA careers went to die, as a losing culture trumped everything else. But that changed when Jefferson signed with the ‘Cats. 

Here’s what I wrote on July 4, right after Jefferson officially left the Utah Jazz in the dust: 

The signing of Jefferson is a great way to tell the rest of the Association that this franchise is no longer content with being a laughingstock. Even if it costs them Wiggins, the Bobcats will no longer finish with the worst record in the NBA, nor will they come too close. 

But more importantly, it makes them relevant. The Bobcats can’t immediately be dismissed if we hear their name linked to an elite free agent. 

Relevant. 

It’s a strange word to use with the Bobcats, but that’s the situation that Jefferson created. Not just by signing with the team, but by joining forces with the rest of Charlotte’s youthful squad, dominating as an individual and leading it into playoff contention. 

Let’s revisit the first two sentences of this section: “The Bobcats have had a promising future for a little while now. Except that they’re, you know, the Bobcats.”

The second one no longer applies, and the credit goes largely to Big Al. Perhaps in the future, another player can help shake the reputation to an even greater extent. 

ShamSports.com shows that the ‘Cats have $41,593,280 committed for the 2014-15 season, thanks to the contracts of Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions and a few others coming off the books. They’ll have enough money to be in play for a marquee guy. 

In the past that would’ve been irrelevant information. 

But not anymore. 

I would say these aren’t your parents’ Bobcats, but that’s not exactly accurate. If you’re old enough to be reading this article, chances are your parents were around long before the ‘Cats entered the NBA. 

So instead, let’s just say these aren’t the Bobcats that went 7-59 during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. 

Far from it. 

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