With a reconstructed right knee and a physique 31 pounds lighter than it was last year, Minnesota Timberwolves center Al Jefferson is ready to be the center of attention in the Twin Cities.
“I worked the hardest I’ve ever worked in an offseason,” Al told Sean Devaney of the Sporting News. “My playing weight was 289 last season. I am down to 259 now.”
No. 25 entered training camp this week with a whole lot to prove after his 2008-2009 season was cut short by a knee injury. The injury, a torn ACL suffered in February of 2009, is one of several reasons why Al decided it was time to slim down this offseason, as quoted in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
"It's going to make a big difference," Jefferson said. "Everybody made it clear this year they want to run, so I've got to keep up. It'll be good for my knee, too."
|Big Al from media day (Getty Images).|
Before he went down last year, AJ was having a career season. He averaged 23.1 points per game and 11 rebounds per game in 50 games. So the big man will have to deal with high expectations on a young, but ever-changing Timberwolves team.
New T-Wolves coach Kurt Rambis has been very pleased with what he's seen from Al and believes No. 25 is ready to lead the team, as quoted in the Star-Tribune:
"I think he sees our vision," said Rambis, who won six NBA titles [four as a player, two as an assistant coach] in nearly three decades with the Lakers. "He wants to be a leader. He wants to step up and be responsible for this team. Obviously, he's a huge part of our growth and where we're going to go as a team. He's going to absorb that responsibility. He wants to be somebody who does the right things at the right time all the time."
Rambis has made it known that he's going to take it slow with his big man as Al continues to work his way back from the knee surgery, but AJ is ready to get back to work.
"I've been told that," Jefferson said with a grimace when told the team's medical staff might limit his training-camp work. "But I'm just going to go. I'm going to be a part of that team and do what they do. If my knee needs to take a rest, then I will. But I'm not going into camp thinking like that. I'm going to do as much as I can."
For more on what teammates think of the slimmed-down Big Al and how Al plans to keep up with the league's bigger centers, read the entire story here.
The Timberwolves began practice yesterday with Al in the middle and No. 25 was happy to be back on the floor after 8-months of rehab, as quoted in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
"It felt real good," Jefferson said after the Timberwolves opened training camp in owner Glen Taylor's hometown. "It's more about my lungs than anything. My knee felt great. Felt good to be back out here with the team."
IN WITH FLYNN
AJ also used T-Wolves media day on Monday to gush about his newest teammate, Wolves rookie point guard Jonny Flynn.
Flynn was a first round pick of the Timberwolves this season out of Syracuse and already has Big Al drooling over his abilities, as quoted in the Star-Tribune:
"Oh, man, I'm just going to say that kid's special," Jefferson said when asked about Flynn at the team's traditional media day Monday. "I don't want to hype him up right now, but I'm so happy that I got a chance to play with him. Just playing 5-on-5 with him these past two weeks, that kid's special. The way he sees the floor. I think he's got a chance to be just as good as Chris Paul.
"That's just my opinion. I know that's saying a lot. But I really believe that."
Flynn averaged 17.4 points and 6.7 assists per game as a sophomore at Syracuse last season.
“I worked the hardest I’ve ever worked in an offseason." -- Big Al WORKOUT WARRIOR
At NBA.com, Steve Aschburner followed No. 25 through some preseason workouts as Al worked to slim down his frame.
AJ's workouts were pleasing to his new coach, as quoted by Aschburner.
"I'm pleasantly surprised that he's down here taking contact,'' Rambis, the Minnesota Timberwolves' new head coach said amid the thumps, whirs and heavy breathing of his own workout. "Once guys come in and start playing, you want to see if he favors that leg or runs around it. The sessions we've had have been more controlled. He could kind of judge where he's going. But when you're playing, you've got to react. You can't modulate what you're doing out there."
Big No. 25 still thinks about the injury, and his right leg is still working to get back to where the left leg is, but Al believes he'll be back to dominating the paint, as he was prior to the injury, before too long.
"Of course the right leg is a little weaker than the other one,'' Jefferson said. "That's normal. The doctor said it would probably be this time next year before that knee would be 100 percent. But it should be no problem with my movement. I don't have no problem doing nothin' out there that I was doing before I got hurt.''
To read Al's thoughts on his new coaches and their thoughts on Big Al, click here.
23 FOR 25
SLAM Magazine continued its countdown this week of the 50 best players in the NBA. Checking in at No. 23 was Big No. 25. Brett Ballantini heaped praise on Big Al and classifies No. 25 among the top three centers in the league:
"Jefferson is, and at 24, should remain so for the next decade, The Franchise. It appears that he, and not Amar’e Stoudemire, is the spiritual son of Moses Malone, an o-board gobbler (3.4 per last year and well north of three per in his career as a starter) and already the 81st-best shooter (at .505) in NBA history. He’s shifted into becoming the centerpiece of the offense with aplomb, facing double- and triple-teams without a significant loss of shooting accuracy. He’s increasing his trips to the line, a sign of offensive maturity. Had he played enough in 2008-09 to qualify for year-end lists, his PER of 23.1 and Offensive Rebound Percentage of 10.6 would have tied him for ninth in the league, and his Total Rebound Percentage of 17.5 would have placed him eighth. Smoothed out over a per-36 minute standard, Al Jeff is a 19.3 and 11.1 player for his career."
To read Ballantini's entire piece, a must read for any fan of A-Jeff or the T–Wolves, check out SLAM's Top 50.
Dime Magazine has also released a ranking of its top 30 go-to-players in the association and has Al ranked 25th, as Austin Burton writes:
"As a go-to player, Jefferson more like a relentless bodypuncher wearing you down into the late rounds than a spectacular knockout artist. The same hooks, spins, turnaround J’s and tip-ins he was getting in the first quarter, he’s getting in the fourth. Minnesota’s offense runs through him early and late, and he’s proven to come through late when his team is close. According to 82games.com, Jefferson scored 31.6 points per 48 minutes of “clutch time” (4th qtr/OT, 5 mins or less to go, 5 pts margin or less), right behind Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams, right ahead of Kevin Durant and Pau Gasol."
FOLLOW THE WOLVES
Al and the Timberwolves tip-off the preseason in five days when they host the Milwaukee Bucks in Mankato, Minn. on Sunday, October 4. The regular season opens 24 days later, four weeks from today, Oct. 28 in Minnesota where the Wolves host the New Jersey Nets.
To view Minnesota's full schedule, click here.
The skinny on Al Jefferson (Minneapolis Star-Tribune, September 29, 2009)
Slim, trim Jefferson feels good after first practice (Minneapolis Star-Tribune, September 30, 2009)
Less of Jefferson a good thing for T-Wolves (Sporting News: The Baseline Blog, September 27, 2009)
Top 50: Al Jefferson No. 23 (SLAM Online, September 29, 2009)
Flynn has something 'special' (Minneapolis Star-Tribune, September 29, 2009)
The NBA’s 30 best go-to players (#25: Al Jefferson) (Dime Magazine, September 22, 2009)
2009-2010 Minnesota Timberwolves Schedule (Timberwolves.com)
Wolves' Jefferson eager to put knee injury behind him (NBA.com, September 17, 2009)