Living the Fantasy: Monster Jefferson

By NBA TV's Rick Kamla

Al Harrington used to be called “Baby Al” by his veteran teammates with the Pacers because he was just a wee buck coming to the NBA straight outta high school. Obviously, that nickname no longer applies because Al is a bad-man these days.

“Baby Al” has never been a fitting moniker for Al Jefferson, who was all man when he entered the NBA out of high school with the 15th pick in the 2004 draft. And last week the basketball world watched as the man morphed into a monster.

Last Friday in Boston, Jefferson and the Wolves definitely got the attention of KG and his new team in one of the most intensely played games of the year.
(Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images)
In claiming Western Conference Player of the Week honors for the first time, Jefferson led his Wolves to a 3-1 record with averages of 28.8 points and 12.8 rebounds.

The first victim was Golden State on MLK Day, when Al dropped 21 and 12 on Harrington and the Warriors in a 109-108 victory that snapped a 16-game road losing streak.

The second victim was Phoenix two nights later at the Target Center, where Al (39 and 15) out-dueled Amare Stoudemire (33 and 6) in a 117-107 victory for the home team. The W gave the Wolves their first winning streak of the season and a 2-0 home record against the Suns.

Last Friday in the reunion game in Boston, the Wolves lost a thriller 87-86 as Jefferson and Kevin Garnett waged war throughout. Amid a smack storm from KG, and wonderful interior defense from the Celtics, Jefferson was limited to 15 and 5, which didn’t quite measure up to KG’s dirty double-double of 10 and 16. But Jefferson and the Wolves definitely got the attention of KG and his new team in one of the most intensely played games of the year. By the way, I expect the rematch on Feb. 8 in Minneapolis to be another battle featuring healthy hatred among family members ripped apart by trade.

Finally, the Wolves’ third victim last week was the desperado Nets at Target Center, where Jefferson set a new career-high with 40 points and grabbed 19 rebounds as Minnesota came from 15 down for the improbable win. It was such a dominating performance by Jefferson, and such a deflating loss for the Nets, it caused Jason Kidd and his agent to sub out of New Jersey.

That’s quite a week for this 23-year-old power forward who has the rebuilding Wolves (and their fans) thinking big down the line.

And why not? Over the past week, Jefferson proved he’s not only a monster, but a special player in terms of leading his team and willing his team to victory against two of the best teams in the league (Warriors and Suns). Non-special players cannot do what Jefferson did last week. Non-special players cower under the shower of profanity poured on them by Garnett in his house, where the Celtics are 20-4 this year. Non-special players don’t keep optimistically chopping wood in a game where none of his teammates join the fight until the fourth quarter, which was the case against New Jersey. Non-special players don’t go for 39 and 40 in the same week.

Jefferson, who had 20 and 12 in the first game of the new week in a loss at Chicago, is a special player with post moves that make his boss blush. Kevin McHale was the best player of his era—and perhaps the best ever—in terms of varietal post moves, and it seems like Jefferson has every one of them. In fact, Jefferson often strings two or three moves together to free himself for the best shot, just like McHale used to.

Jefferson is drawing comparisons to Tim Duncan from at least one former NBA player I’ve spoken with, and I am listening. Check out how similar their stats are this season and keep in mind that Duncan and Jefferson rank 29th and 35th, respectively, across eight categories.

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Tim Duncan: 19.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 0.8 steals, .516 field, and .704 free.
Al Jefferson: 21.1 points, 12.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.0 steals, .496 field, and .707 free.

As a lifelong Timberwolves fan, I am psyched that my favorite player, KG, is smiling again, and I’m equally psyched to have Jefferson extended into the next decade. McHale gets ripped for a lot of his moves, but he and his staff deserve much credit for inking this young stud before the season, allowing him to flourish and the team to save priceless cap space. Jefferson is on his way to becoming a max-level player, but the Wolves smartly got him below max-money.r.

Jefferson is playing at an All-Star level, but his team’s lack of success automatically precludes him from All-Star consideration. Don’t worry…Monster Jefferson will be playing in the greatest exhibition on earth soon enough. In the meantime, check out my reserves for the Eastern and Western Conference All-Star teams.

Eastern Conference
CChris Bosh, Raptors: Bosh went for 37 and 12 in Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Wizards, giving him 30+ in four of his last six games. He’s the 17th ranked eight-cat player, his team is four games above .500, and he’s a lock for his third All-Star appearance.
FPaul Pierce, Celtics: Thanks in large part to Pierce’s 20.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists, the Celtics are an NBA-best 35-8 and 12-0 against the Western Conference.
F Caron Butler, Wizards: Butler was an All-Star for the first time last season and he’s gotten a lot better in 07-08 so you do the math. Speaking of math, Butler is the fourth-best fantasy player across eight cats. Fourth!
FAntawn Jamison, Wizards: Through Tuesday’s victory over Toronto, the Wizards were 21-14 since Gilbert Arenas went down for the count. Jamison leads all Eastern Conference forwards in double-doubles and rebounding. Plus, he and Butler form the league’s highest scoring forward tandem. Jamison was the pick over Hedo Turkoglu for the last forward spot.
GChauncey Billups, Pistons: He’s the best player on the fourth-best team in the league. The Pistons are 32-13 because Billups is averaging 17.9 points and 7.1 assists—12th in the 8-cat rankings.
GRip Hamilton, Pistons: Rip is a two-time All-Star and he’s probably looking at a third trip to the NBA’s midseason classic because he’s the leading scorer on the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. And he’s been squeaky clean, averaging career bests in field goal percentage (.508) and three point percentage (.469).
GRay Allen, Celtics: I realize Ray is shooting a career-low 42 percent from the floor, but the seven-time All-Star leads the NBA in clutch shots made. If the Pistons had four All-Stars a couple years ago when Flip Saunders was the coach, the Celtics need to have three All-Stars for coach Doc Rivers. Tough call between Allen and Jose Calderon for the final guard spot in the East, but the Big Three has been the story of the first half and it needs to be fully represented in New Orleans.

Western Conference
CMarcus Camby, Nuggets: With Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony already in as starters, I am saying that three Nuggets make the trip to New Orleans while only one Hornet (Chris Paul) will be playing on his home court for All-Star. The reigning defensive player of the year is up 2.5 rebounds (14.2) and 0.5 blocks (3.8) from last season and he’s played in 43 of 44 games. Tyson Chandler is averaging 12 and 12 for the team with the conference’s best record, but its Camby’s turn.
FDirk Nowitzki, Mavericks: Duh. The reigning MVP has been playing like it over the past month and Dallas is unstoppable again. Kudos to Carmelo and his fans for stealing Dirk’s spot in the starting lineup.
FAmare Stoudemire, Suns: To get Camby onto my All-Star team I had to move Amare to forward, which is his natural position anyway. There’s just no denying Amare’s greatness. His team is in contention for best record (again) and he’s got the eight-best numbers across eight cats.
F Carlos Boozer, Jazz: As this went to web, Boozer’s Jazz were atop the suddenly competitive Northwest Division standings thanks to the 16th-best numbers across eight cats, including 22.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 55 percent from the floor. Tough call between Boozer, David West, Josh Howard, and Shawn Marion, but Booz has been just a little bit better.
GSteve Nash, Suns: The sixth-best 8-cat player is averaging career-highs with 11.9 assists and .482 from deep. He’s 33 with upside.
G – Chris Paul, Hornets: Last year we wondered if CP3 was an All-Star, and he wasn’t. This year we’re wondering if he’s MVP of the league…
GBaron Davis, Warriors: Baron has the fifth-best numbers in fantasy basketball and his team was 27-18 as this went to web. Apologies to Brandon Roy, Deron Williams, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, but Baron’s gotcha all beat.