ASHEVILLE — One of the basics of NBA basketball is finding a scorer who forces the opposition to make tough choices, and Al Jefferson needs to be that guy for the Charlotte Bobcats. So how do they exploit him?
Jefferson is an old-school, low-post scorer. Its telling that new coach Steve Clifford said Jefferson instantly becomes this teams best offensive option. That says something about Jeffersons ability hes averaged 16.4 points and nine rebounds over a nine-season NBA career and perhaps more about how easy its been to guard the Bobcats over their first decade.
But feeding a true low-post scorer is tricky: They dont get the ball on their own the way Michael Jordan did or Kobe Bryant does. You must feed the post, then read how the defense reacts. Success will be as much about younger guys on the perimeter learning to react as it is Jefferson fitting into a new setting.
That is the Bobcats single biggest task in the eight days they spend this training camp, which started Tuesday at UNC Asheville.
Veteran (teammates) take advantage very well of what I do, Jefferson said. Younger guys are a little more challenged.
Look for the ball, and be ready to shoot. And be alert! If two guys are on me, then somebody has got to be open.
The Bobcats signed Jefferson to a massive contract: $27 million over the next two seasons, plus a player option for an additional $13.5 million in the 2015-16 season. Hes here to score 20 points a night and grab 10 rebounds. But hes also here to create easier scoring opportunities for others.
Hes going to demand double-teams. We have to be always ready for him to pass the ball, and take a shot. At some point, theyre going to shift the scheme, and we need to be ready for that, said shooting guard Gerald Henderson.
Its a cat-and-mouse game, and the Bobcats havent been good at that. So you send an extra defender at Jefferson, and you test how the opposing team will react. New coach Steve Clifford says the challenge is more perimeter players reading how defenses will react to Jefferson than how Jefferson fits in as a Bobcat.
The post-up game is very different because its a dependent position, Clifford said. Its not easy to put the ball in (close to the rim) where you have to guard him. You have to give him options when the ball comes back out. Thats spacing and shooting.
The Bobcats are not traditionally a strong jump-shooting team. Thats somewhat about their talent, but also about how easy its been to get out on the shooters without worrying about who you might leave open inside.
Ive never played with a guy of his ability in the low post. Hell draw so many doubles. Well get a lot of open shots, Henderson said. Now we have to find open shots. Spacing is so important.
No doubt. To spend this much on Jefferson without teaching Henderson, Jeff Taylor and Ben Gordon how best to present themselves as targets for passes would be a huge waste.
Henderson seems to get it that being ready whether it be as a shooter or a passer is imperative to making this work.
We have to be always ready for him to pass the ball because people dont want to guard him one-on-one, Henderson said. You want to create a good shot, whether its yours or spreading it on.
Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129. Twitter: @Rick_Bonnell