by Mohamed Abdihakim, special to Salt City Hoops
The title is a bit misleading isn’t it?
For his career, Al Jefferson only commits 2.8 fouls per game, so his trouble isn’t that he fouls too much; it’s that he doesn’t get fouled enough. Specifically, let’s look at how Jefferson’s lack of free throw attempts affects the team.
Perhaps Utah’s most important player whenever he’s on the floor, Jefferson deserves credit for his consistent contributions. At this point in the season, he’s posting 16.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, and has contributed about a steal per game — all near his career averages. For better or for worse, he’s a huge part of the Jazz offense and defense.
It’s the odd free throw numbers that are alarming about Jefferson’s time on the floor.
[Editor’s note: Jefferson’s tendency to shoot jumpers and avoid contact while shooting is well-documented. As a reminder of what Jefferson does well before we re-visit his low free throw rate, let’s check Hollinger’s player card [Insider], with analysis from before the season began:
Jefferson discovered the joys of passing out of double-teams and had a career season as a result, unfathomably leading all centers in pure point rating (yes, this really happened) with the help of a historically low turnover ratio.
His ability to create shots without turning the ball over is truly phenomenal. Jefferson had miscues on only 4.7 percent of his possessions last season. Nobody in the history of the NBA has had a usage rate this high and turnover ratio this low. Nobody.
Yes, there were some drawbacks to this approach. Jefferson took a lot of midrange jumpers and half-hooks and rarely attacked the rim, so he had one of the lowest free throw rates at his position. As a result, his true shooting percentage was ordinary. But creating league-average shooting with virtually no turnover risk is a great bargain, and despite his penchant for ball-stopping it gave Jefferson genuine offensive value.
As for defensive value, we’ll get back to you on that. Jefferson blocks shots and is a good rebounder, but primarily he seems concerned with avoiding fouls that might take him off the court. Only seven centers fouled less, and it wasn’t because Jefferson was in such exquisite defensive position that he didn’t need to gamble. The Jazz gave up 1.9 points per 100 possessions more with him on the court last season, and that was his best mark in the past three years; Synergy also rated him below the league average.]
(Stats via 82games.com)
At 85.9%, he’s a very good shooter from the charity stripe. But that percentage matters less when you consider that Jefferson attempts fewer than three free throws per contest.
Jefferson leads the Jazz in shots attempted by far this season (512; Millsap is second with 389). Per 48 minutes, only 11 players in the league shoot more often than Jefferson. He attempts 15.1 shots per game and only shoots 2.9 free throws.
Most of this can be explained by Jefferson’s shot selection. 73% of his field goal attempts are of the jump shot variety, accounting for 9.2 of his 16.8 points per contest. This partially explains the dramatic difference in his rebounding rate on the offensive end vs. the defensive end, as shown in the table below:
[Ed: Jefferson is a very capable rebounder, but because his offensive game takes him away from the basket, the team is at a disadvantage when rebounds are available. Also, as a very good free throw shooter, Jefferson misses opportunities for free points. Teams would be terrified to put Jefferson on the line in a Hack-a-Jefferson scenario, but opponents are never forced to make that choice.]
In the effort to put some context into Jefferson’s FTA figure, here’s a list of the same statistic from other Jazz players (minimum 250 field goal attempts):
Gordon Hayward: 418 fg’s attempted, fouled on 58, 13.9% foul drawn
Paul Millsap: 466 fga, fouled on 77, 16.5% foul drawn
Derrick Favors: 279 fga, fouled on 55, 19.7% foul drawn
Randy Foye: 332 fga, fouled on 15, 4.5% foul drawn
Mo Williams: 280 fga, fouled on 10, 3.6% foul drawn
On that list are two players who have shot at least 250 field goals and currently carry a lower foul drawn rate than Jefferson. Both of those players put up a heavy majority of their field goals as jumpshots (92% jump shots for Foye, 84% for Williams).
Al Jefferson, at least among forwards, has one of the game’s best pump fakes. He’s no Dwyane Wade, but who is? Jefferson needs to use that skill to get easier shots close to the rim. Meanwhile, Wade makes a living on his particularly tempting pump fake. Wade has been fouled on 85 of his 497 shots, drawing a whistle on 17.1% of his shots.
When a legitimate NBA talent like Jefferson has a pump fake this good, he should take the Dwyane Wade approach and repeatedly punish defenders for their involuntary jitters.