Al Jefferson’s Knee is Fine, According to Both Him and the Numbers

Al Jefferson had several injuries during the 2015-16 season, but he says his knee won’t be a problem going forward.

Al Jefferson was limited to 54 games with the Charlotte Hornets last season, leading some to question if he’ll be healthy enough to help the Indiana Pacers this year.

According to the man himself, his knee won’t be a problem. He says the surgery he had at the end of 2015 was something he should have taken care of two years ago.

“I feel really good,” he said. “The surgery I had this past year on my knee was something I should have did two years ago, but better late than never. For the first time (since then), I feel like my old self.”

That knee surgery sidelined him for 23 games, but at least he looked better afterwards, according to the Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell.

However, the injury and subsequent missed games are why Jefferson fell out of the starting lineup.

Those 23 added on to the six games he missed earlier in the season with a strained calf, prompting coach Steve Clifford to remove Jefferson from the starting lineup and put him into a role coming off the bench. On top of the health and durability, he missed five game due to a violation of the NBA’s drug policy.

As a starter, he had scored double-digits in 13 of the 17 games and had four double-doubles. He averaged 13.8 points and 6.6 rebounds a game before he missed those 23 games because of knee surgery.

So how was he after the surgery?

In the 29 games he came off the bench, he averaged 10.8 points and 6.3 rebounds. A slight drop off from his numbers as a starter and the same could be said for some of his advanced statistics as well.

But on closer inspection, those numbers as a reserve are actually better than the raw statistics will tell you. Looking at some of his per 100 possessions numbers from before and after the All-Star break, either the surgery or the role change led to a better Big Al.

He scored more points and grabbed more rebound per 100 possessions, but he did see a drop in his field goal percentage from 51.1% to 46.5%. A slight change, but he also becomes one of the first scoring options when he’s coming off the bench compared to when he was a starter. In fact, despite playing five fewer minutes, he attempting about the same amount of shots.

Getting 10+ points from Jefferson as a reserve would be great for the Pacers, but he still has the ability to score 20+ when he comes off the bench, something he did four times after the All-Star Break in Charlotte.

The Pacers are planning to up the pace of their play this season, but Jefferson coming off the bench (and used in certain situations with the starters) might be the perfect role for him at this stage in his career.

And some of those concerns about pace might be overblown. If you look at the Pacers’ pace for the season and compare it to Jefferson’s in March and April, the two are very close. That isn’t to say Al will be leading the fast break for Indiana, but it isn’t as if Jefferson can only play at a glacial pace either.

His fit may not be perfect, but he’ll be an option in the post for the Pacers and might wreck havoc on the opponent’s bench. After spending the second half of the season doing that in Charlotte, it isn’t as if he’ll scoff at the notion of being a bench player, either. He’s readily accepted that at 31-years-old, this is where he’s at in his career.

Perhaps in the long run what will be more important for the Pacers is his leadership and experience. Jefferson plans to work with Myles Turner to make him a complete player, according to the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor.

Turner will not be the first player to receive guidance from Jefferson.

Throughout his career, Jefferson has taught younger players how to improve and what it takes to be successful in the NBA. He helped Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter become serviceable players during his time with the Utah Jazz. In Charlotte, Jefferson pushed and encouraged former Indiana University standout Cody Zeller enough to the point that Zeller eventually replaced him in the starting lineup.

Jefferson plans to ensure that Turner reaches his full potential as a future All-Star.

“That’s just a part of my DNA,” Jefferson said of mentoring young players. “I remember coming into this league at 19 years old and I had some veteran guys that were willing to help me and work with me. That’s just kind of one of the things they always told me, to pay it back and do it for the next guy. Myles has a bright future.”

Turner has a bright future, but so may Jefferson this season with the Pacers.

Jefferson isn’t the same player he was a few years ago, or even to start last season, but if the knee surgery has taken care of some the issues that have led to a decline in his numbers in recent years, then he will be a major contributor to the Pacers.

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