Amile Jefferson Channels His Inner ZoubekPosted by Chris Kehoe on February 4th, 2014
He knew he had it within him all along. The skinny 6’9” “power” forward from Philadelphia had always played with an infectious sense of energy — the quintessential ‘hype man’ for Duke. But in Amile Jefferson’s freshman season, he primarily logged spot duty minutes at a clip of about 13 minutes per game. Stuck behind senior frontcourt leaders Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, Jefferson struggled to get into a groove and find a defined role in Duke’s system. Coming into this year, the 2012 McDonald’s All-American made it his business to add weight to his frame so he could take advantage of a vacuum of low-post talent in the frontcourt.
Without a true post presence on the floor but all his other pieces aligning, Mike Krzyzewski needed either Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee or senior Josh Hairston to anchor the post while flanked by perimeter-oriented forwards Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker. Given that the Parker/Hood tandem is a highly efficient scoring duo, the center role in Duke’s scheme this year primarily requires competent rebounding, post defense, and communication while anchoring the back line of the defense. While Jefferson will never be the kind of defensive shot-blocking presence as Kansas’ Joel Embiid or Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski, he can arguably check the boxes that Duke desires in a big man.
Jefferson’s trajectory this season shows a willingness to buy into his role on this team and put in the necessary work to improve. He has not grabbed fewer than six rebounds in a game since December 3 versus Michigan, and he is averaging close to nine rebounds per game since that home win two months ago. As he has rebounded more effectively (he ranks in the top 60 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage), his work down low has resulted in increased scoring opportunities for himself and second-chance points for his teammates from kickouts. Against a long and active zone in last weekend’s epic Syracuse game, Jefferson’s nice offensive game (14 points) could attract more defensive attention next time, opening up opportunities for uncontested long-range jumpers for shooters like Andre Dawkins, Rasheed Sulaimon, Hood and Parker. He and Plumlee will both get another chance at solving the Syracuse zone in Durham on February 22.
247Sports’ Chad Lykins has likened Jefferson’s recent ascent to that of Brian Zoubek’s climb to eternal Blue Devils fame with the instrumental role he played on the 2010 Duke championship team. Zoubek largely did not live up to expectations as a five-star recruit from New Jersey, but after a foot injury during his senior season, he began rebounding, protecting the rim and playing with great energy that coincided with Duke’s national title run. Duke fans can only hope that the similarities translate so well that Jefferson’s improvement likewise results in Mike Krzyzewski fifth championship. Duke’s improved play can be attributed to a number of key factors, but the rise of Amile Jefferson on the backboards and his corresponding increased confidence have allowed Coach K some latitude in how he constructs his lineups.