Analysis: Reading new center Al Jefferson’s moves crucial for Chalotte Bobcats’ chances

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comOctober 1, 2013 

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The Charlotte Bobcats signed center Al Jefferson to a high-dollar contract in the off-season. Now they’ll have to learn to play as a group around a low-post scorer who might be the team’s best scoring option.

JEFF SINER — jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

— 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. It’s telling that new coach Steve Clifford said Jefferson “instantly” becomes this team’s best offensive option. That says something about Jefferson’s ability – he’s averaged 16.4 points and nine rebounds over a nine-season NBA career – and perhaps more about how easy it’s been to guard the Bobcats over their first decade.

But feeding a true low-post scorer is tricky: They don’t 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. He’s here to score 20 points a night and grab 10 rebounds. But he’s also here to create easier scoring opportunities for others.

“He’s going to demand double-teams. We have to be always ready for him to pass the ball, and take a shot. At some point, they’re going to shift the scheme, and we need to be ready for that,” said shooting guard Gerald Henderson.

It’s a cat-and-mouse game, and the Bobcats haven’t 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 it’s a dependent position,” Clifford said. “It’s 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. That’s spacing and shooting.”

The Bobcats are not traditionally a strong jump-shooting team. That’s somewhat about their talent, but also about how easy it’s been to get out on the shooters without worrying about who you might leave open inside.

“I’ve never played with a guy of his ability in the low post. He’ll draw so many doubles. We’ll 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 don’t want to guard him one-on-one,” Henderson said. “You want to create a good shot, whether it’s yours or spreading it on.”

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129. Twitter: @Rick_Bonnell

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