Jefferson Is Moving On Up

By Stephen Alford
Updated: January 26, 2005

Janet Robinson
Al Jefferson

BOSTON, MA.—The Emerald will shine soon enough I’ve dubbed him the Emerald because the Celtics found this jewel in the rough of a draft full of high schoolers, underclass college kids, and foreigners. He’s a 19-year old who was drafted with the #15th pick in the 2004 NBA draft. In your writer’s not so humble opinion, not only is he better than the #1 overall pick Dwight Howard, but he can also hold his own against the #2 overall pick, Emeka Okafor.

Mark my words: Al Jefferson will become the next Bob McAdoo, albeit not the McAdoo who played for the Celtics just before the Bird era, but the McAdoo who ran with the Braves.

In fairness to Okafor, the former UConn Husky sent invitations to a block party to Paul Pierce, Kendrick Perkins, and Al Jefferson. All three accepted. Jefferson accepted twice.

Al’s first acceptance was mailed in early in the fourth quarter on Tuesday and with the Celtics trailing Charlotte 73-74. But before giving Okafor all the praise, first give credit to the Emerald for following Marcus Banks’ attempt to finish a drive down the lane. Also, by helping to keep the ball alive, Tony Allen eventually scored, giving the Celtics the lead.

Later in the 4th with the score tied at 82 and with 5:05 remaining in the game, The Emerald grabbed a Ricky Davis miss. That Tommy Point eventually led to Paul Pierce converting two free throws to again give Boston the lead. The Emerald also snatched up a missed 16-footer by Mark Blount with 3:50 left. Granted his shot was again tossed back by Emeka Okafor, but, once again, by helping to keep the ball alive, Mark Blount was able to put the Celtics up by five points (89-82) with 3:29 left on the clock.

Al essentially put the last nail in the proverbial coffin when, without hesitation, he hit a jumper with 1:45 left in the 4th, keeping Boston at that five point cushion (91-86) and also forcing Coach Bernie Bickerstaff to call a timeout.

The numbers don’t really tell the story. If you just read the box score you would think that Okafor’s 20 points (10-for-19 from the field but no-for-4 from the line), 12 rebounds (seven from the offensive end), four blocks (you should’ve seen the one he had against Kendrick Perkins) and one steal trumped Jefferson’s eight points (4-for-7 from the field, including to dunks off of passes and four points from offensive rebounds) and six rebounds (four from the offensive end). But the Okafor played 39 minutes and is already essentially the expansion Bobcat’s first option. While Jefferson, on the other hand recorded 20 minutes in the 97-92 Celtic victory and for now, has to take a back seat to Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, Mark Blount, Gary Payton, and Ricky Davis on the offensive end.

For now.

Writers have predicted that the Celtics may make a move that just may end up giving The Emerald Al Jefferson more touches. And if he continues to play this well, Doc may have no other choice but to insert the young Jefferson into the starting lineup permanently – a la Amare Stoudemire, who the Celtics will see on Friday.

Aside: The dunk that Keith Bogans had against the Cs was bananas and deserved to be #1 on ESPN’s Top Ten Highlights. Who didn’t box out? Jiri.

On January 19th, in a home game against the Chicago Bulls, Al scored 17 points on 6-for-8 from the field and a perfect five from the line. The 6’10”, 265-lb power forward from Prentiss, Mississippi also hauled down 10 rebounds in 29 minutes of action as Boston defeated the young, hot Bulls 92-83. But what’s more important to take note of is: not only did the Truth, the Glove, and Ricky D show that they had enough confidence in the young Jefferson by constantly feeding him in the low post, but Doc also had enough confidence in him to close a close game.

When asked about how he felt about being on the court in the closing minutes of a must-win game, the kid fresh out of high school responded by saying, “Shocked!” “Because I’m not used to being out there that late,” he continued. “Yeah, that’s where I want to be, but I was just a little frightened. What it does for me, it earns more trust from Doc because, like I said, I’m not hardly ever in the game like that during crunch time.” And to think, Coach Rivers didn’t even think that Al was going to dress in a Celtic uniform too many times this year. Doc was going to do the same thing that the Celtics did with Kendrick Perkins last year; put him on the shelf so he can learn the game.

“I didn’t think he’d have a uniform. Honest to God. I tell everyone that,” admitted Doc Rivers following the game against the Bulls. “When we drafted him, we thought that we were going to put him in street clothes and work with him everyday before games and after games and after practice. It just tells you how much we knew. I will say this: after Summer League, we kind of knew we had something better than we thought. And he was so gifted offensively.” Doc continued to say that the Emerald has a long way to go defensively, which means that CelticNation should not look for the new Employee Number 8 (sorry Antoine) to be a fixture in the starting lineup.

“I don’t know about the starting lineup. That will come. But he’s earning minutes,” said Doc. “There’s no doubt about that. He deserves to be on the floor. Our guys trust him, especially Gary, Paul and Ricky. You could see whenever he was on the post (against the Bulls); they threw it down to him. Even down in crunch time. They didn’t care because he has two things: 1) He’s uncanny on the post getting his shot off. And 2) He has great hands. He doesn’t miss much. So that’s a good combination to work with. And when a young guy has that, you know he’s just going to keep getting better.” With all of CelticNation’s eyes on the young Jefferson, he has to be feeling the pressure of performing well night in and night out, but instead of folding under the pressure, Emerald Al simply takes it in stride.

“I’m taking it one day at a time. I had a good game tonight (against the Bulls). The next night I might not do so good.” Or the Celtics might not do so good.

Following his 17-point display against the Bulls, most of CelticNation was pleading for Doc Rivers to make Jefferson a permanent starter. But Doc did not succumb to the anxious desires of CelticNation, and, once again, the Emerald came off the bench for the next two games.

Similar to the game against Chi-town, these were must wins for the Celts. The team was already riding a nine road game losing streak. Furthermore, just like the rest of the Atlantic Division, both New Jersey and Atlanta have been struggling for wins.

The Celtics stood defeated in both games.

Jefferson logged 19 minutes, scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds in the 104-98 loss to the Nets. Then turned around and recorded 13 minutes, six points, and four rebounds in a 100-96 collapse against the lowly Hawks.

“There’s still a lot I got to learn. So, no, I’m not going to say I’m ready to start,” said the Emerald after the game against Chicago. “I like my role right now to come off the bench and back up Mark Blount and Raef. My time is going to come. Right now I’m still in a learning process.” “He (Doc) knows I’m a good player,” he continued. “And he knows I’m going to be a great player but there’s a lot I don’t know and he understands that. That’s why he’s always in my ass all the time. So I live and learn.” Hopefully, the pressure will make this rough gem shine.

“When I first came in, I felt like if I get the chance to go out there and learn everything I need to learn, I can play with anybody. I know I’m the type of player who learns real quick. I didn’t know I was going to make this big of an impact.” And that is why your writer has unofficially dubbed Al Jefferson: The Emerald of the Rough.