For the first time in a very long time, Al Jefferson is going to start this NBA season as a reserve. He’s entering his 13th season in the NBA, and as one of the last players to have been drafted directly out of high school, he serves as a sort of a throwback to the prep-to-pro era.
Just because there are no longer droves of 18-year-olds looking to find riches in the NBA at the expense of the college experience doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of young players in the league dealing with crazy expectations at a very young age. Indiana’s Myles Turner, for example, is only 20 years old but already carries a ton of responsibility for a Pacers team that needs him to stretch the floor on offense and protect the rim without fouling quite so much on defense.
While Turner seems fairly ready to accept that responsibility, having someone like Jefferson on the team certainly won’t hurt him as he continues to get accustomed to the league, which is one reason why the Pacers gave Big Al a three-year deal worth $30 million this summer. Jefferson has already faced the pressure of high expectations at a young age and can offer guidance to Turner. Among other things, Jefferson believes he can be a mentor to Turner as well as provide solid production behind him in the lineup.
“Being around him every day, he’s showed me he’s a really special player with a bright future,” Jefferson said of Turner. “He’s a hard-working kid with the right attitude for a second-year player.
“It seems like to me the guys who have been around him have done a great job working with him on how to receive attention and deal with what he’s got going on for himself. But the one thing that I wanted to teach was having that back-to-the-basket game, because the things he’s doing already make him a tough match-up for any team. He shoots the three well, he shoots the outside shot, he can put the ball on the floor. If I can teach him a few moves on the block, teams won’t know how to stop him.”
That old-school post-up game is going the way of the dodo, with many teams playing their stretch fours at what used to be the five spot. Back-to-the-basket bruisers are a rarity these days, as more and more lineups want to open up the floor, move the ball around the three-point line and shoot a ton of deep balls. Players like Jefferson don’t do that, but that doesn’t mean posting up isn’t a skill that stretch fours and fives can’t still implement.
“You don’t see it no more, now that Tim Duncan’s gone especially,” Jefferson said of the changing roles of NBA big men. “DeMarcus Cousins… Zach Randolph maybe? There’s not many of us anymore.”
Earlier this summer, Turner raved about Jefferson and made it clear that he was excited about the addition.
“With Big Al, his footwork is impeccable,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “I’ve watched him play over the years and he’s an incredible player.”
Other than the post moves, Jefferson just wants to help Turner handle expectations. Things have come a little easier for Turner so far in his career, but Jefferson’s experiences were such that any young player could learn from them.
“I tell people all the time, I would never want to relive my rookie year again,” Jefferson said. “Not that it was terrible, just that everything was a learning experience. It was hard coming out of high school, playing 35 games and [then] going to playing four games in five nights in four different cities and being expected to play your best at a high level with no excuses. I had to learn so many plays and not having any good reasons as to why you don’t know a play yet. There was so much thrown at me, and I had to either get it or not get it.”
It did get better though, obviously, thanks in large part to Jefferson’s veterans in Boston.
“Around the middle of my second year, things started coming a lot easier to me,” Jefferson said. “I was working hard and had good vets around me: Paul Pierce, Tom Gugliotta, Michael Stewart, Antoine Walker, Ricky Davis, Gary Payton. It wasn’t always easy for me, but I got through it.”
Turner will too, and it’s looking like Jefferson may be one of those “good vets” on the roster who will almost certainly help him tap into his potential. While it already seems like this will be the season that Jefferson moves from starter to veteran reserve, it also looks like this could be the year that Turner takes his massive leap forward. For now, it seems like both are perfectly willing to accept their role and make that transition – and the end product should be good for the Indiana Pacers.
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