2014-15 Season in Review | Al Jefferson
By Matt Rochinski, hornets.com
2014-15 Season in Review | Al Jefferson
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Al Jefferson entered the 2014-15 season with high expectations after being named the All-NBA Third Team the previous season after showcasing himself as one of the most dominant centers in the NBA. With the additions of Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams and Brian Roberts via free agency in the offseason, the Hornets appeared be adding more pieces to the puzzle that would use Jefferson as a focal point as Charlotte made another playoff push. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case as the team struggled to find its identity early on with so much roster turnover and Big Al battled injuries throughout the season and put up averages of 16.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists as the Hornets missed their shot at postseason play.
“Last year, we had a start. (Jefferson) was phenomenal. He was one of the 15 best players in the NBA,” said Head Coach Steve Clifford. “We need to have a best player and it needs to be Al. He’s been 19 (points) and 10 (rebounds) in this league for a long time… he never played at that level (this season) but the guy was never healthy. That’s got to be one of the things for next year. If we come back here next year and we’re going to take a step, he’s got to be our best player again.”
Leaning on Big Al Early
Al Jefferson was the primary bright spot in Charlotte as the team struggled out of the gate, posting a 3-14 record in November. It wasn’t due to a lack of effort on Jefferson’s part as he averaged 20.5 points on 49.8 percent shooting, including a season-best 34 points in a 122-119 double-overtime win over Atlanta on Nov. 7 at Time Warner Cable, putting up his best offensive numbers of the season. However, it was on the defensive end – particularly the defensive glass – that Jefferson seemed to suffer a setback in the season’s first month. He brought down just 5.4 defensive boards and 7.3 overall in November, marking his worst numbers on glass, outside of the two limited games he played in April.
Finding a Late-December Groove
After posting just six wins through the first month-and-a-half of the 2014-15 NBA season, Charlotte began to settle in midway through December in a six-game stretch from Dec. 15-23 that saw both Jefferson and the Hornets playing some of their best basketball of the season. Big Al averaged 19.2 points and 9.3 rebounds while posting three of his team-high 22 double-doubles and leading Charlotte to a 4-2 record heading into the brief holiday break.
Both Big Al and the Hornets were hoping to ride the momentum they had build heading into the Christmas holiday when they tipped off against the Thunder on Dec. 26 in Oklahoma City. Instead, the Thunder handed Charlotte a 98-75 defeat, in which Jefferson scored a then-season-low four points in 22 minutes of play. Two games later, Jefferson would leave the Dec. 29 contest against Milwaukee with a left groin strain and would be sideline by the injury for nine games before returning to the lineup on Jan. 19 against Minnesota.
Jefferson returned from his nine-game absence strong, averaging 16.0 points and 8.9 rebounds in six games while posting three double-doubles in an average of 27.4 minutes. Jefferson came off the bench the first three games of that stretch, marking the first time in 544 games that he entered a game as a reserve dating back to Dec. 4, 2006, when he played for the Boston Celtics.
Reunited and It Feels So Good
The Hornets and Jefferson got a major boost on Feb. 10 when General Manager Rich Cho announced the team had acquired guards Mo Williams and Troy Daniels, along with cash considerations, from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for guard Gary Neal and Miami’s 2019 second-round draft pick. The trade not only brought Charlotte some much-needed assistance at the point with Kemba Walker (knee) sidelined, but it reunited two best friends in Williams and Jefferson. The two have known each other since their AAU days, as well as having already been teammates in Utah, and the chemistry they shared was instantly apparent. In Williams’ first nine games on the court with the Hornets from Feb. 21-March 8, Jefferson averaged 17.9 points and 10.8 rebounds while notching four double-doubles as Charlotte went 6-3. However, the reunion would be short lived, as Jefferson began having issues with knee soreness and missed the March 13 game against Chicago. Jefferson tried to push through the pain on the Hornets five-game road trip towards the end of March but after having his knee drained on multiple occasions, Charlotte decided to shut Big Al down with right knee soreness on April 4 as he missed the last seven games of the season.
Jefferson has a decision to make heading into next season as he has a player option for 2015-16. However, in his season-ending exit interview, Big Al stressed that he could not see any reason he would not take the option and continue to build what he started in Charlotte two seasons ago. Jefferson said he doesn’t expect to take much time off because he wants to get back into the gym here in Charlotte, get in tremendous shape and be the All-NBA performer he was two seasons ago who helps lead the Hornets to a playoff series victory and maybe even further.
“I feel like a lot of the little nagging injuries I had this season had something to do with the way things went last offseason,” admitted Jefferson. “I have to do a better job getting myself in good shape so we won’t have to have those nagging injuries bothering me throughout the season. I think that will solve that. My goal was to play all 82 games this season, so that’s a new goal to set for (next) season. That’s something I want to do for the third time in my career. I hate missing games, and its all about how you take care of yourself in the offseason... not only do I want to prove it to myself, but I want to prove it to my teammates that we have to get back to where it was and it does start with me and Kemba. I have to show them how serious I am about getting back to the playoffs and advancing. There’s a lot of unfinished business.”