Al Jefferson is not an NBA All-Star
All-Star game, you smell funny
Despite his great height, Big Al Jefferson does not look the part of the sleek, perfectly proportioned NBA athlete; he's a little doughy and a little knock-kneed. But with the ball in his hands, when his outrageous skills take over, he's totally transformed, his movements suddenly seeming graceful and effortlessly deceptive. If you give him space, Jefferson can shoot his jumper; if you contest his shot, he can drop his elastic ball fake and blow past you. If you play him baseline, he pivots to the middle for a jump hook; if you take away the middle, he spins to the baseline for a leaning lay-in. And he can feign any of these moves and flow seamlessly into any other.
Many, including our friend Matt Snyders , writing in these same virtual pages, considered this Big Al's year to be recognized, citing the fact that he is among only four 20 point, 10 rebound per game players in the league. Instead, Shaquille O'Neal, that venerable monolith (averaging only 18 and 9), will be backing up Yao Ming at center for the Western Conference. Aesthetically, this amounts to a crime against humanity. The lone sources of Shaq's appeal as a player (to me at least)--the quickness and dexterity that complemented his utter, humbling power--have deserted him, leaving him looking hulking and uninspired. Maybe it's just me, but I'd rather listen to Al Jefferson play violin than watch Shaq play ball.
That said, statistically speaking, Shaq's having a pretty good year. On their face, his numbers seem inferior to Big Al's, but O'Neal is getting his points much more efficiently (he's shooting 60% to Al's 49%) and rebounding at about the same rate (17.3 boards per 48 minutes, to 16.8 for Al).
What's more, Al does himself no favors on defense (although, to be fair, Shaq certainly isn't what he used to be either), where he shows little of that aforementioned instinct and facility; his one-on-one D is mercurial, at best, and his rotations often indecisive. He showed off his full offensive arsenal on Sunday against Chicago, when he scored 39 points on 16-19 shooting. But he also got pushed around by Joakim Noah, allowing Noah to hit 7-10 shots and collect 10 boards. And against Detroit on Wednesday, Rasheed Wallace took advantage of Jefferson's soft-ish one-on-one D to hit five of his nine second half shots.
So, judged on the merits alone, this could've gone either way. Unluckily for Big Al, though, as its name suggests, the All-Star Game is mostly a fame contest, the Oscar's of the NBA. And Shaq, with his litany of successes, his catalog of organ displacing dunks, his simply beloved sense of humor Shaq is nothing if not hugely famous.
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