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Former Jazzman Al Jefferson acknowledges he struggles with defense

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 14 2013 3:35 p.m. MDT

Charlotte Bobcats' Al Jefferson, center, holds up his jersey with Rod Higgins, right, president of basketball operations, and Rich Cho, left, general manager, during a news conference for the NBA basketball team in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, July 10, 2013. Jefferson, a free agent, signed with the Bobcats.

Chuck Burton, ASSOCIATED PRESS

During Al Jefferson's three seasons in Utah, the Jazz routinely finished in the bottom half of the league in a variety of defensive statistics.

From the 2010-11 season to this past year, the Jazz were never ranked among the NBA's top 15 teams in opponents' points per game or opponents' field-goal percentages.

Jefferson was particularly weak against the pick and roll. According to Yahoo Sports! writer Dan Devine, the Jazz finished in the 20s (24th, 20th and 21st) in opponent points per possession during Jefferson's time in Salt Lake City, and the Jazz allowed "an eye-popping 9.2 more points per 100 possessions with Big Al in the middle than when he sat last season."

During a recent interview with Grantland's Zach Lowe, Jefferson acknowledged his defensive deficiencies.

"It ain't no secret around the league that I struggle with my defense," Jefferson told Lowe. "My pick-and-roll defense is my weakness. And that's mind over matter. I just gotta suck it up … and do it."

The Bobcats signed the former Jazzman to a three-year, nearly $41 million deal in early July. What Charlotte gets out of the deal is an offensive-minded center — he ranked 20th last year in the NBA in points per game — with a high shooting percentage.

Lowe said he met with Rod Higgins, Charlotte's president of basketball operations, and new Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford over dinner. It was at that meeting that Jefferson realized just how much the Bobcats were willing to invest to get him, an incentive the big man called "icing on the cake."

"It made me feel so good that there's a team out there that has so much belief in my game," Jefferson told Lowe. "I was like, 'Done deal.’ ”

During his three years with the Jazz, Jefferson averaged 18.6, 19.2 and 17.8 points per game while shooting right around 49 percent from the floor.

Based on those numbers, he goes into Charlotte as the team's top offensive option. Last year, point guard Kemba Walker led the Bobcats by averaging 17.7 points per game.

His assists-per-game ratio also hit a career high in Salt Lake City as he averaged more than two per game in his final two seasons with the Jazz.

Jefferson credited his time in Utah with helping him mature in his offensive game.

"They used to call me The Black Hole, and that's really who I was," Jefferson told Lowe. "But going to Utah just matured me in so many ways. I'm past the stage in my career where I feel like I have to take all the shots."

Lowe wrote that "skeptics around the league will tell you the Jefferson signing might represent the perfect 'best of both worlds' endgame for Charlotte." What that means is Jefferson could help lift the Bobcats — who had a 21-61 record last year and a historically bad 7-59 in 2011-12 — a bit out of their recent winning woes while still leaving themselves in a position to obtain high lottery picks.

"Having a starting, big-minutes center who's a confirmed liability in pick-and-roll coverage … makes it awful hard to build a winning team, and awful hard to justify the whopping $13.5 million annual price tag Al now carries," Devine wrote.

Read more about how Jefferson fits into the Bobcats' plans at Grantland.com.

Email: bjudd@deseretnews.com; Twitter: @brandonljudd

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