For the last decade, the Minnesota Timberwolves were able to rely on one of the most dominant big men in the game in Kevin Garnett. Prior to the beginning of the season, the Timberwolves realized that they had reached their limit with "the Big Ticket" and it was time to rebuild. In a trade with Boston, Minnesota sent Garnett to the Celtics in return for a handful of young players with loads of potential.
Jefferson, a forward/center who jumped straight from high school to the NBA, was drafted 15th overall in 2004, the same year as Dwight Howard. In high school, Jefferson averaged 42 points and 18 rebounds per game, but scouts had some reservations about his athleticism and defensive prowess. Jefferson proved his doubters wrong as a rookie, putting up a respectable 6.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and he has consistently improved since his rookie season.
His first year with Minnesota hasn't been successful, at least from a team standpoint as the Timberwolves stand at a dismal 19-59, but Jefferson has quietly established himself as one of the game's best forwards.
Offensively, Jefferson has a refined game and is a versatile scorer for his stature. At 6'10", 256 lbs, Jefferson has a wide frame which he uses to back opponents down, making him a very difficult one-on-one matchup in the post. Averaging over 21 points per game on the season, Jefferson also does damage from 12-15 feet out with solid jump shot that forces defenders to always be aware of where he is on the court.
Another aspect of Jefferson's game that ranks amongst the league's best is his aptitude for rebounding. Jefferson averages 11.2 boards per game, which is in large part because of his text book box-out skills and his big body. Jefferson is a thick player that carves out space in the paint and regularly grabs down missed shots. Jefferson also gets a lot of good looks at the basket because of his ability to grab offensive rebounds, as he averages just under four per game.
Defense is perhaps the one weakness of Jefferson's game, as scouts predicted when he was in high school. While not an awful defender, Jefferson's low post D doesn't nearly matchup with his offensive skills, especially when facing elite big men. Howard dominated Jefferson earlier in the season, putting up 28 points and 16 boards in November. Jefferson averages a respectable 1.4 blocks per game but with his size and intensity, that number should be higher.
Tonight, Orlando and Minnesota will face each other in a game that has little implications for both teams. Howard traditionally has trouble guarding forwards that have a good mid-range game, such as Jefferson, so the new face of the Timberwolves should be able to do some damage on offense. Jefferson isn't far from taking the next step from very good player to elite and being on a winning team might help his reputation, but for now he is just a building block (a spectacular one at that) for a franchise looking to rebound after losing one of the best players the NBA has seen in the past 20 years.
Looming Large: Al Jefferson
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