Am I missing something about Al Jefferson? In rough numbers, the guy averaged 40 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 blocks a game in high school. Wouldn't he be a steal? And wouldn't he make a tremendous frontcourt with Boston's Kendrick Perkins for the next decade?

What I Don't Understand About Al Jefferson

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services  

I've read all the same reports you have about Al Jefferson, every news item, every interview, every comment about him. What I don't understand is why he's not a higher draft pick. Many place him just out of the lottery and sometimes even in the low 20's. What am I missing?

My main point is simple: this guy averages 40 points, 20 rebounds, and almost 10 blocks a game.

Yes, it is against high school competition, and yes, he's the biggest guy almost all the time. But he's also got five defenders on him almost all the time. I guess the biggest question mark is why doesn't he get more assists. On the other hand, when you're scoring 40 points a game, why pass?

Before Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in an NBA game, he dominated high school too. He once scored 90 points while sitting out the entire fourth quarter. Of course, the 1960's had a lot of high school stars: Danny Heater scored 135 points in 1960, and Walter Garrett scored every one of his team's 97 points in 1963. At the end of the game, all five defenders covered Garrett to ensure he didn't reach the century mark. His teammates would miss intentionally and try to get him the ball; it was Garrett's final game and his teammates wanted to give him a night to remember.

Okay, Al Jefferson is not Wilt Chamberlain, and to my knowledge he hasn't even come within striking distance of one hundred points in a game, but the numbers are still huge. And he did set a national record with 26 blocks in a single game.

Dwight Howard averaged about 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 blocks per game, along with almost 5 assists. (I'm rounding to the nearest five in almost all cases just to keep things simple.) Suppose, as most will claim, that Howard played against superior competition. Fine. The statistics are similar, though Jefferson scored more and we'll assume Howard passed more.

But Howard is likely to be the second pick in the draft. Jefferson is nowhere near single digits.

My conundrum is: why not?

Forty points is hard to ignore. Is it really just the weaker competition? That doesn't sound like a good enough reason. Yes, he's coming out of high school, but so is Howard. Even give Howard the edge athletically and with his jump shot. Jefferson is still going to be a force to be reckoned with.

And he's not in a complete vacuum in terms of competition. He and Howard both played in the 2004 McDonald's All-American game. Howard got 19 points while Jefferson got 16 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Howard was co-MVP with J.R. Smith but Jefferson was not a hidden object.

Is Jefferson going to be the biggest steal of the draft? Or am I missing something?

A lot of GM's around the league that are using or trying to use a statistical, mathematical, quantitative approach to the draft must, almost by definition, ignore high school and international players, because there's just no good data.

Here's one data point they can put in their models: forty points is a lot more than twenty.

The one criticism Howard has had to endure is that he may not be a particularly polished low-post player, as he tends to fill the wings and shoot jumpers more often than relying on solid footwork in the paint. Whether that's true or not, it can't be said about Jefferson. "Big Al" likes to stay in the paint and work his magic. He's not going to be a Rasheed Wallace or Eddie Griffin type of power forward who will drift out to the three-point line: he will be more like a Moses Malone or (dare I say it) Shaquille O'Neal kind of player, who will live and die by the paint and offensive rebounds. He's not going to play center -- he's probably not even 6-9 -- but at the four-spot he could be a high-percentage low-post threat and perennial rebounding terror for any team that drafts him.

In mock drafts, I have placed Jefferson at fifteen because I think he would be a good fit for the Celtics. The Cs already have a versatile big man from last year, Kendrick Perkins, but another low-post pounder couldn't hurt. In two-three years, they could form an awesome due.

Remember that while the current trend in power forwards is to have skinny long-range bombers such as Antoine Walker or Kevin Garnett or Dirk Nowitzki, there were some teams that won multiple championships with the front court packed with low-post miracle men.

Did you ever see Robert Parish or Kevin Garnett take a three-pointer? Not often. That was left to their "small" forward Larry Bird. And the Celtics have two potential long-range bombers in Paul Pierce and Ricky Davis, either of which could play the small forward spot.

With Raef LaFrentz back next year, they'll have yet another three-point threat. But with the departure of VIn Baker and the imminent departure of Mark Blount, they lack the inside scoring punch that they'll need to keep defenses honest. Perkins will have to step up to a larger role this year, and Jefferson could play some helping minutes as well.

The Celtics are not about to contend for a title, at least for the next year or two. The old draft magic of getting picks that instantly make you contenders does not apply to this draft. The right approach is to pick the players, like Perkins and Jefferson, that in a few years will be able to deliver enormous dividends.

So? Am I missing something? If Shakespeare were around today, he might observe that forty points by any other name is still a lot of offense.