How will Jefferson, Charlotte Bobcats react to double-teams?

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comNovember 12, 2013 

“Dependent position.”

You hear that term a lot these days around the Charlotte Bobcats. Specifically it refers to center Al Jefferson, and how to exploit what should be this franchise’s best offensive weapon.

Jefferson is “dependent” in that he has to rely on others to get him the ball in the low post and then to prepare for a pass should the opposition double-team.

They will double-team – a lot – and how well the Bobcats adjust to those defensive gimmicks might determine how their season goes.

Jefferson missed much of the preseason and five of the first six regular-season games with ankle injuries. Now they need to refine how to play off him going forward.

In the first game back from his most recent injury, Jefferson finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists Monday against the Atlanta Hawks. Probably the best play he made in his return was zipping a pass through the lane as shooting guard Gerald Henderson cut to the basket. Henderson ended up with an uncontested dunk.

“That should be a signature play for us when they try to double Al,” Henderson said at practice Tuesday, preparing for a Wednesday road game against Boston. “You’ve got to be in a position to score off of him. If someone turns his back on me, I’ve got to be gone” to the basket.

Jefferson admits he was a “black hole” when he played for the Minnesota Timberwolves from 2007 through 2010. He became a better passer in the ensuing three seasons playing for the Utah Jazz. That came at the insistence of Jazz coaches Jerry Sloan and Tyrone Corbin.

But Jefferson’s passing only matters if the perimeter players – primarily Henderson, Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor – decisively present themselves as targets.

“You have to move constantly,” Henderson said of playing with a low-post scorer. “Either come over right in front of him for a 3 or cut (to the basket). You’ve got to make yourself available to him. Then it’s 4-on-3.”

No one knows that better than Bobcats associate head coach Patrick Ewing. Ewing posted nearly 25,000 career points as a low-post scorer, primarily with the New York Knicks. He improved dramatically mid-career as he learned how to read and react to double-teams.

“When they double, he has to get the ball back out, and he will,” Ewing said. “(Passing out of the post) makes them have to think. If you don’t get better at that, you’re stuck in mediocrity. I had to become a better passer because I was being doubled so much. I learned to help the team game.”

Jefferson likes the athleticism on this roster and believes in a couple of weeks the synergy will catch up to the potential.

“Teams will almost always have two guys on me,” Jefferson said. “We have guys who can take advantage of that – players who can make hard cuts to the basket. We’re going to get some baskets if guys work to get open.”

Coach Steve Clifford said the hardest thing on offense is learning to play with a true low-post scorer, in part because they’ve become relatively rare. But the rewards can be huge.

“Think over the years how San Antonio has played: How many times it’s been Game 6 (of the playoffs), tie score with a minute left and (Manu) Ginobili throws it to (Tim) Duncan and they get a cutting basket. We have guys who naturally cut well,” Clifford said.

“You’ve got to find a way to get (Jefferson) the ball in his primary spots and then he’s got to make the plays. If the pass is there, then make the pass, which he will.”

Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell

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