Jefferson could offer Bobcats inside scoring

Rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comJuly 1, 2013 

Whether or not Al Jefferson is interested in being a Charlotte Bobcat, whether or not there’s a price he and the franchise would agree on to sign here, this much is clear:

Jefferson, 6-foot-10, would address a problem that has plagued the Bobcats for years: a lack of low-post scoring that allows opponents to guard without double-teaming any Bobcat.

An NBA source confirms the Bobcats reached out to Jefferson’s representatives once free-agency began as Sunday became Monday in the Eastern Time Zone. CBSSports.com first reported the Bobcats’ interest in Jefferson about 1 a.m.

Jefferson will visit with the Bobcats on Wednesday, according to a league source.

It’s a logical thing for the Bobcats to at least explore. They finished last season with the NBA’s worst shooting percentage (42.4 percent) and third-worst points per game (93.3). Coach Mike Dunlap, who lasted a single season in the job, often said the Bobcats’ only easy points came at the foul line.

Two incumbent starters in the frontcourt – small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and center Bismack Biyombo – combined for just 14 points per game. Although new coach Steve Clifford is searching for ways to create better shot opportunities for Kidd-Gilchrist, it’s clear the third member of Charlotte’s frontcourt has to be a scorer.

That’s in part why the Bobcats used the No.  4 overall pick Thursday on Indiana forward-center Cody Zeller. It’s also why they would at least investigate the availability of unrestricted free agent Jefferson.

Back-to-the-basket scoring is a valuable NBA skill and it’s not so common these days, with so many big men straying to the perimeter for jump shots. Jefferson, having completed his ninth NBA season, has career averages of 16.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 50 percent shooting from the field.

The Bobcats’ half-court offense was spotty last season, with numerous shot-clock violations. Jefferson would provide point guard Kemba Walker with a reliable target for passes late in possessions.

The flip side of that is determining how much Jefferson has left, as the Bobcats try to assemble a sustainable playoff team around young players.

Jefferson is 28 – not particularly old for an NBA player – but the issue with him is more mileage than age. Jefferson turned pro out of high school and has played nearly 20,000 NBA minutes already in nine seasons. He was durable in Utah the past three seasons after suffering a knee injury earlier in his career.

While a strong scorer and a solid defender, Jefferson has never been a particularly effective defender, with opponents targeting him in the pick-and-roll. At-the-rim defense is nearly as much a problem for the Bobcats as the lack of low-post scoring.

It’s unclear who else is interested in Jefferson or what his salary demands might be. It’s possible he’d re-sign with Utah, but the Jazz has reason to start transitioning to the younger big men on the roster.

The Jazz drafted Enes Kanter and traded for Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter as the frontcourt of the future. Jazz management could also possibly re-sign power forward Paul Millsap.

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