Season In Review
It was a year to remember for Al Jefferson and the Indiana Pacers.
After an offseason of change, the Pacers turned things around quickly, hanging near the top of the Eastern Conference all season, showing a six-win improvement on last year’s mark and pushing into the playoffs as the No. 5 seed.
Indiana was a young team with a few key new pieces, and many outside of the Pacers’ locker room didn’t expect much from a franchise that had recently moved on from star Paul George and sought to establish a new identity and set forth on a new path.
However the emergence of guard Victor Oladipo on the court, who became a first-time All-Star this season, certainly helped the Pacers exceed external expectations. So to did the rise of youthful big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. Of course, the growth of those two players, along with the stability of fellow big man Thaddeus Young, pushed Big Al into a dramatically different role this season.
Al played in 36 games this season, but behind the scenes, Jefferson was a leader for the team. He served as a reliable veteran presence for Indiana’s youthful roster and provided many of their budding young talents with invaluable advice, while always staying ready to perform when he was called upon.
Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard knew more than anyone that Jefferson’s value this season goes beyond the box score.
“You look at him and he’s not playing much but the influence he has on our team is gripping,” Pritchard said after the trade deadline. “He really has the team’s ear. I didn’t want to take a player like that off our team and out of our locker room.”
Big Al has been around the league a long time, so he naturally picks up on certain things much more quickly than younger, more inexperienced players. So, he was able to pass along his 14 years of NBA knowledge to the Pacers’ young big men, like Sabonis.
“He always tells me things like to attack quick,” Sabonis said during the season. “He says I’m a lot quicker than the other guys, so don’t always be banging into someone. If he sees a particular matchup, he’s probably guarded that player a lot more than me, so he tells me what will work.”
READY AND ABLE
Aside from the intangibles that Big Al provided this season, he remained extremely productive and efficient when asked to play a bigger role on the court.
When Myles Turner missed a game in November against the Detroit Pistons, No. 25 filled in admirably posting 19 points in 22 minutes on 70 percent shooting. In December, he schooled Toronto’s youngster Jakob Poeltl racking up 20 points and 12 rebounds in just 25 minutes.
And although Big Al never developed a three-point shot like many other centers around the NBA have, he believes his advantage in the paint has widened as big men have started to drift toward the perimeter and away from the paint.
“These young guys don’t know how to guard guys like me no more,” Jefferson said.
That explains why Al was one of the Pacers most efficient players when he was on the court this season. Of the 25 games in which Al played at least 10 minutes, he scored eight or more points 14 times and he had five or more rebounds 13 of those 25 games. Additionally, he recorded the best field goal percentage on the team at 53.4 percent, and Jefferson ranked second on the team in scoring, rebounding and blocks on a per-minute scale. And for the season he trailed only the team’s lone All-Star, Oladipo, in player efficiency rating.
It all goes to show that, while Big Al may not post numbers with the same volume as fans have grown accustomed to over his stellar career, he continued to prove across the 2017-18 this season that he can still produce at a high level while now adapting to a primary role as a great mentor and leader for a young team with postseason aspirations.