The Chairman and The Postman
Those who follow All-NBA center Al Jefferson of the Charlotte Hornets have heard the big man’s post game referred to as “old school” time and time again.
With many forwards now serving as floor stretchers, not to mention the birth of terms like “stretch four” and “point forward,” the post play of the past is certainly going the way of dodo, leaving Big Al as one of the few lasting purveyors of an otherwise lost art.
But if No. 25 is a student of the old school game, then who are the teachers?
As the summer turns to fall and the NBA regular season draws near, AlJefferson25.com will take a look at some of the best big men of the past and show just how The Postman crafts his dominant down-low game after some of the best to ever do it.
We’ll start, with none other than the Chairman of the Boards himself: Moses Malone.
Pump Fakes and Footwork
As his nickname implies, Malone’s game revolved largely around cleaning up those boards.
At 6-10, 260 pounds, Malone boasted the entire gamut of moves down low, utilizing not only strength, but also quickness and impeccable anticipation. As a result, he led the league in rebounding six times and sits sixth in NBA history in total rebounds.
Once The Chairman pulled down those offensive rebounds was when he was most dangerous. The Hall of Famer was impossibly patient, causing even the game’s best big men to jump out of their shoes trying in vain to block his putbacks.
Perhaps the most impressive example of this came against none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The play can be seen at the 3:37 mark in the video below.
Malone missed a shot over the towering Abdul-Jabbar but corralled his own miss. He then missed again on an up-and-under attempt, only to once again outduel Kareem to bring down the board.
By this time, he finally got Kareem, one of the greatest ever to play the game, out of position. Malone settled himself and calmly finished off the glass for two.
While he did miss twice, the play was the epitome of not only his prowess off the glass, but his incredible motor and willingness to outwork even the best of the best on any given play.
It may seem simple, but it is exactly the type of play that can wear down opponents and ultimately change games.
A major reason Malone was crafty and effective around the basket was his footwork. In small spaces down low, players simply cannot afford to waste steps.
Compared to Malone, Big Al is working with a larger 6-10, 289-pound frame, but that works in his favor and allows No. 25 to rely more on strength in the post. However, his size also makes Al’s footwork that much more crucial.
Big Al averaged 22.5 points and 11.2 rebounds per 36 minutes last year, so he doesn’t quite pull down boards at the rate of Malone, who averaged 21.5 points and 13 boards per 36 over his career.
However, No. 25 has managed to mirror many of Moses’ moves to turn rebounds into points. One of the biggest weapons for both Malone and Al: the pump fake, seen below.
In this instance, The Postman out-muscled Phoenix’s Robin Lopez, put him off balance with a quick pump, and then powered up between two players for an authoritative slam.
The pump fake wasn’t much, but similar to the subtle moves Malone used against Kareem, it worked.
The Three T’s: Timing, Technique and Tenacity
Many believe cleaning the boards is all about boxing out, but for Big Al, that isn’t the case. Instead, No. 25 relies on a combination of anticipation, timing and technique, as Alec Lam of SLC Dunk broke down:
“Along with the timing, the technique of jumping for the rebound was outstanding,” Lam wrote. “It was always balanced, jumping straight up off two feet going strong with both hands… Along with his great technique, he also does an amazing job with predicting the location of the rebound.”
A great example of this came from back in Al’s Utah Jazz days when a funny bounce allowed him to gain just enough room to beat a block out attempt. He jumped up and, at its highest point possible, tipped the ball over the defender back to himself, then spun his way back through the lane and went up strong for a dunk over a different defender.
There were three New Orleans defenders underneath the basket and just one Big Al, but it was The Postman who came up with the board and the jam.
This timing and technique was among Malone’s strengths as well. Players knew that Moses would be lurking somewhere near the basket. And if he wasn’t, he’d somehow find his way there. But either way, given half a chance, he would make the play that needed to be made.
A fantastic example of this, oddly enough, came in an All-Star game when a teammate launched an off-balance shot short of the rim. Malone was there to clean up the miss, beat out a defender and tip the ball in for two in traffic. He made it look incredibly easy because although the defender had better position, Malone had better timing, which made the play happen.
Now here’s Big Al on a similar play that proved to be a game-winner. Utah guard Devin Harris launched a last-second floater in the direction of the basket. Whether it was a shot intended to go in the basket or just a setup for The Postman down low didn’t matter.
While the Sacramento defenders were all contesting the Harris shot, Al found his way to the ball, tipped it into the basket and won the game for his squad.
The Final Word
Al’s first exposure to Malone’s game came when he was on board with the Boston Celtics. Then Boston coach Doc Rivers gave him a tape of the old-school center, and Al’s eyes were opened.
“I was so amazed,” Big Al said of the Moses Malone tape. “My game was so much like Moses Malone and his style of play. I still have that DVD to this day.”
Ever since, The Postman has continued to model his game after The Chairman, from crashing the boards, to working the block, and even his crafty short-to-mid-range jumpers. Playing the physical game down low and in all levels of the post like Malone is something that few players outside of Al still do in today’s game—as his former coach told the Charlotte Observer.
“Playing ‘big’ is a lost art,” Rivers said. “Al is the most instinctive scorer on the post in the NBA…The second practice I had with him – he was 19 years old – he made a couple of moves where I turned around to someone and said, ‘No one taught him that!’”