Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Al Jefferson and the 19/5 Club

I still monitor Al Jefferson like a proud father. I feel bad that Big Al is part of the "for practically nothing" in the sentence that goes "Ainge got KG from the T'Wolves for practically nothing." Al is happily proving that wrong by beasting it every night in Minny for a frisky T'Wolves team. 

But Big Al's scoring lines often look like this: 10-for-20, 3-for-5 from the line, 23 points. When I look at Minny box scores, I usually think, "Damn, that's not as many points as I'd like to see from that many field goal attempts."

Right now, Al's taking 19.2 shots per game and 4.9 free throws per game. (Jefferson is tied with four other players at #36 in the league in FTAs/game).  I decided to see how many times a player had averaged 19+ FGAs  and fewer than 5 FTAs per game and here's what I found: It's happened 59 times, or about once per season, since the introduction of the shot clock in 1954-55, and it's happening less often as the game evolves. It didn't happen once between 1991 and 1998. (Side note: Any theories as to why not?)

It seems like an ignominious stat, a marker of inefficiency, but there are some solid players on this list. Three players lead the way with four 19/5 seasons each: Rick Barry, Fred Carter and Mike Mitchell, a Cav and Spur from the 1980s whom my brain has, sadly, forgotten. Some other high-scoring guards and small forwards, such as Jo Jo White, Gary Payton and Alex English, also make multiple appearances. Even Larry Legend's 1989-90 season is on there. 

But Al Jefferson's a big guy, you say, and you wouldn't expect him to be on this list with all these shoot-first guards who didn't spend all their time banging down low. So I switched the height variable to include only guys 6'8'' or taller. Now we're down to just 13 seasons in the shot clock era, including Al's current campaign. 

What's interesting about this list is that if you take away the two Bob Lanier seasons, everyone else shot pretty poorly from the field and camped out mostly at 15 feet and beyond. We've got three classic Antoine Walker seasons (including two sub-40 FG% years), depressing late-career seasons from Legend, Chris Webber and Jamal Mashburn, and an uncharacteristic poor shooting season from KG in 1998-99. 

Jefferson, in fact, would finish with the second-best FG% among this group. And he's pretty clearly more of a true low post player than the guys listed above; half his shots come from in close, and half are jumpers--a less jumper-heavy ratio than Tim Duncan and Amare Stoudemire, for instance.

I'm not sure if this means anything, since Big Al is 12th in the league in PER and has scored the 8th most total points in the NBA. And, of course, 4.9 FTAs puts Jefferson on the very upper boundary of this club. But for whatever reason, Big Al doesn't draw as many fouls other big men who shoot so much; 82games has his foul-drawing rate at 12.2 percent, compared with 27.2 percent for Dwight Howard and 16.9 percent for Tim Duncan. 

I leave it up to Wolves fans who watch this guy play every day to give us an explanation.


  1. I think there's a key phrase missing in your third paragraph: "and attempted fewer than 5 free throws per game." Right?

    Love this blog, by the way.

  2. I like to think the Nets got Devin Harris and salary cap flexibility for nothing.

  3. I think one of the reasons might be the simple fact that he is a better FT shooter than either Duncan or Howard (who you have mentioned in the article) so opponents are more worried about fouling him than fouling Dwight, who is a horrible free throw shooter

  4. al is a slithery snake. he takes the playground approach where if you get fouled, you do not score (as you don't get free throws).

    also, his money moves are a quick jump hook and a quick drop step slither off the glass. he isn't looking to bang you before he goes up, he just wants to score quickly.

  5. I've been watching every Wolves game. Maybe the most obvious theory is that the refs just haven't given him Tim Duncan-like respect yet, being that he's a young guy on a lousy team. Maybe he doesn't have the rep among players as being a total dominating force that you should just hack as soon as it looks like he's making a move. But I think part of it is the way he moves. He does so much leaning and off-balance hurling towards the basket without being touched that when he actually is being fouled in the process of that, the refs don't realize it every time.

  6. "Lousy team" not being the case anymore, but you get the idea.

  7. Great comments, folks. I've seen only a few Wolves games over the last two years, but I have noticed Al is ultra-quick in releasing the jump hook. There's not as much bouncing the ball and waiting around for double teams or even moving across the lane. Receive pass and shoot.

  8. When Z-Bo was with the Blazers I kept thinking about this. (Not specifically 19/5, but taking a lot of shots and not getting to the line in general. He does happen to be throwing up 19.4 FGA/4.5 FTA per so far with the Clips.)

    LaMarcus Aldridge has the same issues, although he will never be allowed to shoot 19 shots a game on the Blazers. I think Rasheed would have graced the list with Portland too if those teams weren't so deep they limited his attempts.

    The (Portland) players I've seen that suffer from this seem to get most their points from stand-still or turnaround jumpers.

    And the reason for the declining 19/5 has to be that refs are now calling games tighter, right? Or does it represent the death of the spot-up shooters getting as big a slice of the FGA pie? Both?

    Great post.

  9. He's the league's best post scorer because of how many different ways he can get around/over/under a defender for a shot, but sometimes he falls in love with his ability to shift around defenders and tries to keep getting around them for a shot even after he's gotten them off-balance enough to foul him. Granted, a lot of these shots over out of control defenders go in anyway, but he'd still score even more efficiently by just throwing his arms into them as he shoots and getting to the free throw line.

    Of course, the long term effect would be to force defenders to be more honest in contesting his shots, which would allow him an even easier time in maneuvering around them for a shot.

  10. As the lone Spurs fan around here (or at least the only one old enough to remember Mike Mitchell), he was a pretty good off-guard/small-forward during the late-Gervin, pre-Robinson era. He and Johnny Moore were a pretty good combination on an otherwise unspectacular team. I do not recall the year, but he contracted Desert Fever and almost died. He tried to make a brief comeback during Robinson's rookie year, but that did not last long.