I may end up regretting this statement I made in our recent roundtable discussion here at T'Wolves Blog:
And what are the Wolves chances of ever wining a title
with Big Al as our cornerstone?
Won't happen. I honestly don't have a lot to add from College Wolf and Jeremy's comments, as they nailed the reason that the Wolves won't win a championship with Big Al as the first option...simply put, he's an excellent second option, but he'll need to be playing alongside a star for the Wolves to win a title. I love his game, but I don't think he'll ever have the mentality or dominant game necessary to be "the guy" on a championship roster. And that, my friends, makes this upcoming draft absolutely critical for the future success of this team--anything short of drafting a future superstar will be a disappointment, as the Wolves need to acquire their first option before we can start discussing future championship contention for this team.
Since I wrote that in mid-January, Jefferson has scored 27 against Phoenix, 39 in a later game against the Suns, a career-high 40 against New Jersey, 26 against Chicago, and 25 against the Clippers. He's posted double-doubles in nine of his last 10 games, been named Western Conference played of the week, and shot over 50% from the field in nearly every game since the middle of last month.
He's displayed an "alpha dog" mentality, unfazed by double and triple teams and demanding the ball in key, pressure-filled situations. He's getting on his teammates' cases when they don't give him the ball in the post, and he's showing major assertiveness in the huddle. From the looks of it, he's quickly capturing greater and greater respect from this team, and appears to be establishing himself as a locker room leader. And while he'll never match KG's defensive ability, Big Al's shown noticeable improvement on the defensive end as of late.
In short, it seems like he's becoming a superstar right before our eyes.
Am I fully convinced that Jefferson can eventually be the first option on a contender? No--the jury's still out on that. But am I becoming more confident that he'll be able to develop into that role? Absolutely. I can't quite put my finger on what I've been seeing from Al lately, but he seems to be attaining that "it" factor--a star mentality, a mindset that the greats achieve at some point in their career. The attitude that says, "I'm going to score on this possession, and you have no chance of stopping me."
Two or three weeks ago, I was convinced that Jefferson could never be "the guy" on a contender. Now, I'm not so sure. He's been playing at an extremely high level lately, and if he continues to assert himself on the court and keeps entering a leadership role with this team, the sky's the limit for Big Al. On the other hand, these recent weeks of dominant play could simply be the exception to the rule for Jefferson--maybe he will ultimately end up being a 20-12 guy, and a solid second-option.
At this point, we just don't know if Al can enter truly elite status. I do know this, though: My opinion of Jefferson has changed quite a bit over the past few weeks.