There were plenty of narratives to follow leading up to Tuesday night’s matchup between the Charlotte Bobcats and New York Knicks. Both teams came in looking to get on track towards a postseason berth, the Knicks came in having won five straight games, and the Bobcats came in with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning to the lineup after missing a month and a half.
However it was Bobcats’ center Al Jefferson that managed to steal the spotlight. Playing 39 minutes and starting out matched up on the also returning Tyson Chandler, Jefferson had arguably his best game of the 2013-14 NBA season, putting up 35 points, eight rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block while shooting a solid 14-20 from the field and 7-8 from the foul line. Jefferson’s big night propelled Charlotte to a 108-98 win to snap New York’s winning streak.
When the Bobcats signed Jefferson this summer, they had high hopes for how he would positively impact this team, largely because he was simply a big man that had the ability to score the basketball very well, also known as something that the Bobcats haven’t had on their roster in recent years. While Big Al has had a solid year individually while averaging 16.8 points and 10 boards per game, though he’s shooting only 45.2 percent from the floor, the Bobcats’ offense hasn’t progressed as much as you might expect.
Charlotte currently has the fourth worst offensive in the league in terms of efficiency, averaging a meager 97.5 points per 100 possessions. However, Jefferson is hardly to blame for their struggles in that department and, in fact, has been more of a cure than a problem as the Bobcats are 4.3 points per 100 possessions better offensively with Jefferson on the floor.
Jefferson doesn’t need to score 30 points per night, but he does need to do two things that he did on Tuesday more consistently. For one, he needs to exploit matchup advantages. While Chandler is a bit of a tough matchup, Chandler-recovering-from-injury isn’t as tough and also can’t play as many minutes which opens up even more favorable matchups. Moreover, Jefferson has to play more efficiently offensively. We all know that Jefferson can bang and has a lethal game in the short corner, but shooting a career-low percentage isn’t a testament to that.
The Bobcats are somewhat devoid of reliable offensive options as part of their long and ongoing rebuilding process, which often forces Jefferson to press a bit offensively. However, he needs to be smarter with his shots and be sure to play within himself. If he’s able to do that, he should not only see his individual numbers improve, but could also help steer the Bobcats towards a playoff berth in the East.