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How far can Big Al carry the Bobcats

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Al Jefferson has already completed the Herculean task of hauling the Charlotte Bobcats out of NBA purgatory and into the promised land of playoff contention. So it's hardly fair to ask any more of the 29-year-old post-up savant.

That's probably a good thing, because the next step in Charlotte's development will take much more than any one player—no matter how beloved by fans and feared by opponents—can handle on his own.

Before we take a guess as to how much farther Jefferson can carry his 'Cats, we have to take time to appreciate how far they've already come.

* Turnaround Engineer *

Bob Leverone/Associated Press

There were more than a few scoffs heard around the league when Jefferson signed his three-year, $40.5 million deal this past summer. Viewed as a one-dimensional scorer who couldn't be relied on to help a team actually win games, the prevailing sentiment was that the Bobcats had grossly overpaid.

They'd had to.

Years of mismanagement and on-court futility made Charlotte one of the least desirable free-agent destinations in the league. It might as well have been Siberia.

Jefferson signed on, perhaps because he got no bigger offers elsewhere. Maybe he wanted to be closer to his Mississippi roots than he had been at previous stops in Boston, Minnesota and Utah. Or maybe he saw something in Charlotte worth joining.

What happened next was totally unexpected.

Almost immediately, the Bobcats were respectable, and they achieved that unfamiliar status without Jefferson contributing much of anything during the first month of the season. He missed nine of the team's first 13 games with a bad right ankle.

But as that bum wheel healed, Jefferson's game got healthy apace. And as the season draws to a close, he's playing his best ball of the year.

On the season, Jefferson is averaging 21.6 points and 10.5 rebounds on 50.5 percent shooting. With numbers like those, it's no wonder the 'Cats offensive rating jumps from 97.5 to 102.9 when he's on the floor, per

Since the All-Star break, he's been positively fantastic, averaging 25.4 points and 10.4 rebounds on 53.5 percent shooting. During the post-break stretch, Charlotte has gone 12-7.

Incredibly, Jefferson isn't even having his best statistical season. He posted higher player efficiency ratings in 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2011-12, per

Former teammate Paul Pierce knows Jefferson's history of offensive brilliance well, and he commented on Big Al's game after the Bobcats defeated the Brooklyn Nets on March 26, per Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer: "No one on the planet can guard him. We tried to double him. Single, triple—there’s nothing we could have done with him tonight. He was in that type of zone, and that’s the way he’s been playing."

The results didn't disagree with Pierce's assessment. Jefferson dropped 35 points and 15 boards on the Nets that night.

As much as anything, Jefferson and his reputation around the league brought a sense of legitimacy to Charlotte. He's made the Bobcats dangerous, even fun to watch at times. So, even if he's not having his best year by some statistical standards, he's absolutely having his most impactful.

Though he's a big fan of the baby hook, it's Jefferson's turnaround skills that have mattered most this season.


* How Much Farther? *

Jefferson remains a player with clear limitations, though the Bobcats have done extremely well in masking them. In that sense, he owes as much to Charlotte's staff—led by first-year head coach Steve Clifford—as they owe him.

Per Grantland's Zach Lowe, the Kitties have devised a simple but brilliant scheme that hides the big man's flaws:

Clifford has installed a basic system designed to minimize Jefferson’s limitations and provide clear roles for everyone. The results have been stunning. Charlotte has been the league’s stingiest transition defense by almost any measure, following Clifford’s demands to get back on defense immediately upon the release of a shot instead of crashing the boards.

Jefferson hangs back in the paint on pick-and-rolls, an easier system that addresses his lack of foot speed. “The scheme works more to my advantage,” he says. “And the biggest reason is really that Coach just demands it more out of me.”

Charlotte's use of Jefferson has been key. The team hangs its hat on defense, posting the No. 9 defensive rating in the league, despite the big man's negative impact.

So, if there's room for last-minute improvements that could help the 'Cats go farther, that's where Jefferson needs to make them. He's gone from being a complete disaster on D to a mildly negative influence, so it's not crazy to rule out some more improvement.

Ultimately, though, it seems like Charlotte is probably as good as it can be right now. There's not a ton of talent on the roster, and while Jefferson gives the Bobcats an anchor on the block, they still need more options around him to compete with elite playoff defenses.

Speaking of which, it's at least safe to assume Jefferson will lead Charlotte into the postseason for the second time in franchise history. It's currently occupying the No. 7 spot in the East, comfortably situated five games above the ninth-seeded New York Knicks.

That position seems safe.

Unfortunately, that security comes at a cost. Charlotte's nearly locked-in first-round matchup will come against the Miami Heat, a team it hasn't beaten in four tries this year. Perhaps there's a better chance for an upset if the Bobcats slip into the No. 8 spot to face the Pacers. At least they've notched a victory against Indy this season.

Then again, it's probably not a good idea for the Bobcats to deliberately move downward in the standings—it might feel a little too familiar.

It'd be nice to say Jefferson will carry the feel-good Bobcats deep into the postseason, but a first-round out is really the only realistic scenario here. Maybe they can steal a game or two from the Heat. Maybe they'll make a good showing that earns even more respect around the league.

Literally speaking, Jefferson can't lead the Cats much farther this season. But in a figurative sense, the legitimacy he's restored to the franchise has Charlotte light years ahead of where it was just a year ago.

As a rebuilding, soon-to-be-rebranded team seeking respectability, the 'Cats should be ecstatic Jefferson has carried them this far. The next steps will have to wait until next year.


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I'm gladly eating crow on the Jefferson signing. I thought we overpaid, but Big Al has been downright dominant at times this season. I still see no playoff series win, but it's a start. A smart draft and a key FA signing, and they could compete for the 4/5 seed next year. Granted, tanking teams look to be better next year and a bad offseason could set the Hornets back a little.  


Ideally, next year the Hornets come in and compete for the 4/5 seed in the East, maybe win a playoff series and then go into the 2015 offseason looking to become true contenders. The Heat's window could be closing by that point, and the Pacers could look a lot different in a couple of years. An added wrinkle, should Detroit keep it's pick this year (I'm beginning to hope they do), it's only Top 1 or 2 protected the following year. Going into the 2015-16 season, while hopefully retaining Kemba/Big Al and adding pieces, the Hornets could be a favorite. 

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Not very far. Good O no D. Will always get us to playoffs but not to promise land.

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His D has improved a lot. Go re-watch the Rockets game from Monday.

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i'd say at this point the bobcats have a .0000001% chance of winning a championship in the next 5 years.

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that's a lot of words.

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4 losses in the first round, too many limitations to his game defensively and with the team overall. Good teams can expose the Bobcats defense and the Cats have nothing to counter if Big Al has a bad game.

The only hope this team had of winning a game, let alone a series was getting Toronto in the first round.

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I think it's going to be our bench more than anything that will need to carry us.

Big Al and Kemba will do there thing and usually combine for around 45-50 points each night.

Henderson is good for about 10 points a night and McBob and MKG are good for about 5 points each.

This is where our bench comes in over the month of March: Neal, CDR, Zeller, and Tolliver have averaged a combined 32 points per game.

If you had those numbers up above it puts us around the 100 mark which is where we will need to be to compete with Miami and Indiana.

Personally I believe it's going to come down to our bench putting up 30 points for us night in and night out in the playoffs.

Side Note: Our bench put up 46 on the Wizards tonight which ultimately allowed us to get the win.

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We sold our future up the river for four games against the Heat. I hate to be a negative nancy about it, but this is a superstar driven league and we've stunk for FAR too long not to have one.


Kemba Walker goes 0-10 from the 3 point line tonight and is hovering dangerously close to the dreaded 40% mark while being a below league average distributor at the position. The truth is that people are looking at his PPG and ignoring his inefficiency on the floor. I like MKG's potential as a player, but this defensive scheme is really snuffing his development as an offensive player. Zeller has been good in spot duty, but how high is the ceiling there? Bismack isn't getting much meaningful action because the whole system revolves around post scoring and Bismack can't do it. What makes this round of guys any different from the Felton, May, Morrison, Augustin, Ajinca, class of players?


We're working a two many offensive attack right now with Kemba and Jefferson. We'll win half our games that way with random appearances from a hot shooting Neal, Hendo, or Douglas-Roberts. But we're getting ZERO from the PF position between McBob and his backups aside from an occasional hot shooting night from Tolliver. If we have a night where one or both of Walker and Harrington are not producing we're BONED. Without having to keep the post honest, the wings can't get open for shots. Without Walker driving the net, we can't open the floor either. Those two guys are the only offense we have right now and the sad part is that Kemba isn't even that amazing but the numbers look good because he has the freedom to do whatever he wants with the ball here.


We won't make it out of the first round this year and we give up our pick for it. We desperately needed a strong draft this year in a strong class, but we bought into free agency a year too soon.

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