Al Jefferson was out of shape and the Pacers had Christmas in February

Our latest player reviews come in a couple of the Pacers backup centers: Al Jefferson and Rakeem Christmas. If you missed any of the previous reviews, you can find them all here

First up, the Professor of Post-Moves himself, Al “Albus Dumbleboards” Jefferson

The Good

26: The number of times he scored in double-figures. Jefferson supplied an offensive antidote to anemic second units. Whenever a play was busted, a post entry to the big man was always a safety blanket and a near guarantee of a good shot.

2: The number of games Jefferson scored 20 points. In under 20 minutes, on two occasions, Jefferson put on an offensive clinic and was exactly what the Pacers were hoping for when they signed Jefferson to anchor the second unit. He might have done his damage against two of the worst teams in the league (LAL, SAC), but that was the role this team has for him: punish terrible second unit bigs. When he performed, he made things look effortless, which is why these next few paragraphs are so frustrating.

The Bad

20: The number of games missed. Jefferson’s sprained ankle late in the season gave way to Kevin Seraphin as the backup center and gave us the budding on-court friendship of Lance Stephenson and Kevin Seraphin. Seraphin stepped up in his place. Earlier in the year, Jefferson sat out with dental pain and Rakeem Christmas played in his first meaningful time as a pro.

-3.1: His box +/-. This season Al tied his career low in box plus/minus, the box score estimate a player contributed compared to a league-average player on a league-average team. Ultimately, this means whenever Al was on the floor, most of the time the Pacers lead dwindled or deficit expanded.

0: Jefferson played zero minutes in the playoff series against the Cavaliers. For a player in the first year of a 3-year deal that pays him $10 million per season, that’s bad news. His effort on defense was often non-existent as he tended to lazily foul driving guards or watch them blow right past on the pick and roll. Even on offense, Jefferson struggled to be at his best throughout the year with the cramped spacing from the second unit as he was surrounded by non-shooting guards and another big that occupies the same space on offense like Kevin Seraphin or Lavoy Allen. It’s why Pacers fans are hoping they can find someone to take him a trade this off-season though it seems unlikely without the Pacers including a pick in the deal.

In an interview with Dan Dakich, KP mentioned Al’s fitness, explaining that the Pacers didn’t do a good enough job keeping Al in good game shape and that next season things would be different. Whenever one of your bosses tells the world that you weren’t in shape when you should have been, that’s bad news. This would be like if you worked at a Dairy Queen and your manager told local Fox13 after a bad banana split scandal that your ability to make banana splits would have improved if you would have just gotten more bananas like you were asked. Bad analogies aside, Al’s professionalism took a ding, and I’m nervous for next season and what big man might show up.

Time to go get some ice cream (but none for you, Albus!)

Rakeem Christmas

The Good

29: The number of games played. Christmas earned minutes, quality or garbage, in more than a quarter of games played last season. For a second round pick entering his second season, that progression is promising. Immediately following the All-Star break, Christmas showed he can have value as a rebounding/screening/hustling big off the bench. He would likely be best served as a center in a stretch lineup, however, which the Pacers haven’t figured out how to accomplish off the bench to this point.

4.3: The number of offensive rebounds per 36 minutes. When Christmas was in the game, his gift was finding offensive rebounds and creating new possessions. For a player with limited offensive talent, he has to provide an impact on the glass, and he showed he can do that consistently this year. He was a sparkplug at times during his brief stint in the rotation.

 

The Bad

6.1: His fouls per 36 minutes. Christmas’s inability to avoid bad fouls has largely been what has kept him out of the rotation. It’s a general rule that young big men struggle with foul issues and Christmas is the poster child. The hope is that their defensive basketball IQ grows, the player learns how to use his body in space and fouls become less frequent. For Christmas, he has not shown his ability to play fundamental defense to this point in his career and he’s not the youngest player. The Pacers can pick up his ~1 million dollar option for next season, or decide to drop him. Unless they believe he can play without fouling, Christmas may be making a move to Europe or back to the DLeague.

25: Christmas is already 25 years old this season at the front edge of most players’ primes. His upside is very limited at this stage in his career, and the front office will have to decide if his familiarity with the team and his ability to provide energy off the bench is enough to pick up his option this offseason.

 

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