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SALT LAKE CITY — The story leading up to this point in the season has been that Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are simply bargaining chips for Feb. 21, but Jefferson has shown that as he plays big so do the Jazz.
Youth behind him, a below average defensive game and a fan base that compares the first option to Karl Malone have Jefferson in a no-win situation. But, Big Al has shown the rest of the nation that he can contribute and that might get some people calling, which could have Jazz fans missing him.
In a small market it is hard to compete to get big free agents. Players that put up consistent double-doubles are rare in this league and Jefferson is a player that gets it done and when the offseason starts, he might be the biggest name out there.
SBnation.com's Rodger Sherman wrote about Jefferson trying to stay focused and not looking towards free agency. Jefferson isn't currently getting max money, but according to Sherman he might.
"There's a few players in this year's free agency class that will certainly get max deals," Sherman wrote. "But it's not clear how many will leave their current team. Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are both pleased in Los Angeles, with Howard wrangling his way out of Orlando to land with the Lakers. That means Jefferson might be the biggest name on the open market this summer. Andrew Bynum is also an unrestricted free agent at the center spot, but his knees make him a worrisome target. "
Someone might convince Howard or Paul to leave and a gamble on a big man with a bad knee is what the NBA is based on, but Jefferson might be the prize free agent this offseason.
What would that mean to the Jazz fanbase if they let someone else take the top name in free agency for nothing. He isn't having his best year ever, but that might be due to other players stepping up, but he is still a go-to player at least on one side of the floor.
Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland wrote about the symmetry of the NBA and the lack of symmetry of Jefferson.
Jefferson likes his food from the South, his bed really big and his entry pass on the left block. Goldsberry wrote, "If all the NBA players were on Foursquare, Big Al would definitely be the mayor of the left block. He has compiled a collection of effective pivots, drop steps, half hooks, mini-jumpers, "weezies," and up-and-unders that are highly calibrated for the left side, not the right."
He actually takes 76 percent of his shots from the left side of the court, the most lopsided in the league according to Goldsberry. But that is what gets the job done.
Over the past 10 games he is averaging 19.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and just over a block and steal per game, while shooting over 50 percent.
He is an offensive-minded player. He gets his shot and scores, a lot. The offense is tailored to him, but the defense is also made to help him as well. He isn't overly athletic, but when he give maximum effort on the defensive end he can change games on both sides.
This is a tweet from David Locke during the Detroit game, "Al Jefferson has been our best pick and roll defender tonight by a million miles#UTAatDET"
Al Jefferson has been our best pick and roll defender tonight by a million miles #UTAatDET— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) January 13, 2013
That might be the problem that Jazz fans have, why can't he be the best one every night. There are certain games that he decides to change the game defensively and the games turn in the Jazz's favor. The first game of the season against Dallas the Jazz were down 8 at half then stormed back holding the Mavs to 13 in the third.
There was something different in Jefferson's play during that run that sparked the team. He knows it as well, "I told Paul (Millsap), ‘it starts with us'. We lead, and everybody else is going to follow," Jefferson said. "And that's what we did. Basically that's what I said to myself, I said I have to take the game over. It starts with me and Paul and I think once me and him set that tone, everybody else fell in line. But number one is the defense, we played great defense. We talked to each other, we helped each other, and all of a sudden their shots weren't coming so easily."
John Raffel of Rant Sports used that quote in his article "Utah Jazz Using Al Jefferson Effectively As Take Charge Player." When Jefferson sets the tone the Jazz follow, for good or bad.
The bad is wing players watching him pump fake while not moving, which translates to lazy defense. The good is him playing great defense and watching his team turn up the intensity.
There are still plenty of people who believe Jefferson will be traded, but there are also those that believe he has a shot to be an All-Star. Which one shows up each night will determine where the Jazz end the season and maybe where he spends his next few years.