Charlotte Hornets

January 27, 2014

Charlotte Bobcats’ Al Jefferson has the numbers of late to be in All-Star discussion

Bobcats center Al Jefferson, who missed time early in the season due to an ankle sprain, knows respect means more than NBA All-Star game appearance.

First thing you should know about Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson and All-Star Games:

While he would enjoy participating in the Feb. 16 game in New Orleans, 10 seasons into his NBA career he’s not caught up over validation.

“I don’t worry about All-Star,” Jefferson said Saturday. “It would be nice to know they believe (he’s deserving). But when the best coaches double-team you, that means respect. That means more to me than (an All-Star) game.”

Jefferson stopped fretting about this stuff a long time ago.

“I feel like they’d find another excuse to keep me out of there,” Jefferson joked. “A couple of years ago in Minnesota I averaged 23 (points) and 12 (rebounds). They said it still wasn’t good enough because the team isn’t winning.”

The situation this season is similar. Jefferson is averaging 18.9 points and 10.5 rebounds on a team that is 19-27.

To put that in context, he’s the only player in the Eastern Conference averaging at least 13 points and 10 rebounds. One of only four players in the East averaging a double-double.

The numbers get all the more profound when you look at Jefferson’s past nine games. Duringthat span he has scored at least 20 points and grabbed at least eight rebounds. In one of those games he reached 35 points and eight boards. In another he had 30 points and 16 boards.

But here’s the flip side: The guy has missed nearly a quarter of the Bobcats’ games because of a preseason right ankle sprain. That injury might require offseason surgery and Jefferson just recently started feeling somewhat like his old self.

“I know when I’m healthy I can play at this level,” Jefferson said. “I’m feeling really good, so I’m not surprised.”

Jefferson said he finally can pivot effectively off either ankle and is starting to become more confident in his jumping. With point guard Kemba Walker out at least another week with an ankle sprain, Jefferson has carried this team offensively.

That was the expectation when the Bobcats agreed to pay him $13.5 million a season in July.

“I definitely expected him to be the scorer he’s been over the last eight games,” assistant coach Patrick Ewing said. “He’s an offensive juggernaut. We’ve been on him a little bit to pick up his defense, and he’s been trying.”

Defense always has been a relative flaw. Bobcats coach Steve Clifford watched Jefferson’s final 10 games with the Jazz last season, when Utah still was in the playoff race. He studied what Jefferson could and couldn’t do at the defensive end.

Clifford said Jefferson sizes up defensive situations astutely. He doesn’t always play with as much confidence on defense as he does on offense. Ewing would concur.

“He’s trying,” Ewing said. “Every time he doesn’t do something we talk about doing, one of us is in his ear. So he’s conscious of it.”

The All-Star starters, decided by fan vote, were announced Thursday. In the East they are Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Under the new selection rules, it’s not necessary to designate a center among the front-court starters.

This week each conference’s head coaches will vote in seven All-Star reserves per team. The announcement will be Thursday night.

In the East, particularly with no centers among the starters, Chris Bosh and Roy Hibbert seem locks. There figures to be at least one more point guard (say, John Wall over Kyle Lowry or Jeff Teague) and another wing player (DeMar DeRozan or Lance Stephenson).

That leaves three spots in the East and a lot of players in the discussion. Do you go with Stephenson based on the Indiana Pacers’ gaudy record? Joakim Noah for his smothering defense? Luol Deng for his versatility? Paul Millsap for his consistency? Jefferson for his offensive dominance?

Coaches tend to break ties based on team success, so that can’t help Jefferson’s case.

If Jefferson misses out, he’d be fine if Atlanta Hawks forward Millsap (17.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 36 percent from 3-point range) got it. They’re kindred souls from when they played together in Salt Lake City.

“If anyone deserves to go ahead of me,” Jefferson said, "it’s him.”

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