2015-16 Season in Review | Al Jefferson
By Sam Perley, hornets.com
2015-16 Review | Al Jefferson
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It might have been an up-and-down year overall for Al Jefferson, but the Hornets center still managed to finish things strong and establish himself as a vital component of the team’s late-season success. Although he needed to overcome multiple injuries, a suspension and then adjust to a reduced role in the rotation later on in the year, Jefferson proved he still has plenty left to offer this Hornets team moving forward.
A Not-So-Big Al
After being hampered by a handful of different injuries last season, Jefferson returned to Charlotte at the beginning of the year a noticeable 25 pounds thinner after undertaking an aggressive workout and diet regime over the summer. The on-court results soon followed as Jefferson notched double-doubles in two of his first three games and then threw down a season-high 31 points on 15-of-18 shooting to go along with nine rebounds in Charlotte’s 108-94 road win over the Mavericks on Nov. 5, the team’s first victory in Dallas since the 1997-98 NBA campaign.
A few weeks later, Jefferson exited a Nov. 29 home game against the Milwaukee Bucks after playing just seven minutes and was eventually diagnosed with a strained left calf muscle. This injury caused Jefferson to miss six games although the absence was extended another five contests after he was found in violation of the NBA’s anti-drug program, a situation he whole-heartedly regretted and took full accountability for at the time. The Charlotte big man finally got back on the court for a Dec. 26 matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies but made it through just two games before another physical ailment flared up again, this time to his right knee. Jefferson was soon forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus, sidelining him until after the All-Star Break.
Jefferson Bounces Back
In 19 total games before his knee surgery, Jefferson averaged 12.5 points on 48.2 percent shooting, 6.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 25.2 minutes a game for the Hornets. Although he willingly took on a reduced role upon his Feb. 19 return (imaginably not the easiest thing to do for any long-time NBA starter), Jefferson was still able to put up 11.6 points on 48.8 percent shooting and 6.6 rebounds in 22.1 minutes while coming off the bench in all but two of Charlotte’s final 29 games. He poured in 24 points, eight rebounds and two steals in a 111-97 win over the New York Knicks on April 6 and capped off the regular season with a game-high 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting in just 23 minutes during a 117-103 victory against the Orlando Magic on April 13.
Two years ago, Jefferson suffered a painful torn plantar fascia in his left foot in Game 1 of Charlotte’s first-round series against the Miami Heat, greatly hindering his effectiveness over the rest of the team’s brief stay in the postseason. Things were a bit different this time around for Jefferson in the playoffs as he was often times scoring at will in the paint against one of the best defenders in the league in Miami’s Hassan Whiteside and was also a major reason the Hornets were able to push the Heat to the brink of elimination. The 12-year NBA veteran finished the postseason as the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.3 points per game on 50.6 percent shooting to go along with 6.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 24.0 minutes of play, which also included starts in five of the series’ seven games.
Jefferson will enter the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, meaning he is eligible to sign with any team he chooses. While he might have a handful of suitors on the open market, Jefferson has expressed desire to not only resign with the Hornets, but also finish his career in Charlotte, even if means taking on a reduced role and salary.
“For my personal opinion, there is nowhere I would rather be. The last three years have been amazing,” Jefferson said on May 2 during the team’s exit interviews. “I would rather be here. I would like to end my career here. To see what Steve [Clifford] has done with this team [and] Kemba [Walker], they are the reason why I signed here. People thought I was crazy coming here, but I saw what Kemba and Mike [Kidd-Gilchrist] were going to do and I was just happy to be a part of it.”