Al Jefferson is putting up his lowest point and rebound totals since he became an NBA starter, and he's drawing less frequent double teams than he did in his prime.
The Charlotte Hornets couldn't be happier.
Some vastly improved perimeter shooting has given the Hornets an offensive boost they haven't seen in a while, but Jefferson remains a vital part of Charlotte's success heading into a Monday night matchup with DeMarcus Cousins and the visiting Sacramento Kings.
The Hornets (7-6) shot an NBA-worst 31.8 percent from 3-point range last season, but the addition of Nicolas Batum and some previously nonexistent range from Kemba Walker (37.3 percent) have helped immensely. Charlotte is shooting 36.7 percent from long distance - seventh in the league - and is sixth in attempts at 26.4 per game after launching only 19.1 a season ago.
No one has shot the 3 better at home than the Hornets (41.5 percent), who made 12 of 25 from beyond the arc in Friday's 113-88 rout of Philadelphia to stretch their winning streak at Time Warner Cable Arena to five. Jefferson, whose averages are down to 15.2 points and 6.7 rebounds, put up 26 and 10 while largely dealing with single coverage.
"Last year (teams) would say, 'Not tonight, (Al's) not scoring,'" coach Steve Clifford said. "Now they can't do that. What it opens is a cutting game, a drive-and-kick game. To me, the basic tenet of offense is spacing, and your spacing is determined by how much shooting you have on the floor."
Jefferson's touches down low are leading to offense elsewhere. Charlotte averages an NBA-best 1.11 team points per post-up, and it's scoring 102.8 per game overall after averaging just 94.2 last season.
He'll have his hands full Monday with Cousins, but the Hornets probably can't spend too much time doubling Sacramento's All-Star center, either. The Kings (5-9) are shooting 38.9 percent from beyond the arc - 4.8 better than last season - with newcomer Marco Belinelli leading the way and even Rajon Rondo (36.4) and Cousins himself (38.9) getting involved.
The Kings improved to 5-4 when Cousins plays after he put up 29 points, 12 boards, six assists, three steals and three blocks in Saturday's 97-91 win at Orlando.
"He was the most dominant player on the court," said George Karl, who also rebuffed the notion that Cousins is tough to coach by saying "he cares, he wants to win and he lashes out sometimes in maybe a disruptive way."
One thing's for sure: Game-planning to slow Cousins isn't any fun - especially given the Kings' perimeter prowess. Sacramento is shooting a Western Conference-best 48.1 percent on corner 3s.
"You don't want a guy like Cousins ... to set up shop and go to work wherever he wants to," Clifford said. "But at the same time, they have a lot of perimeter scoring. If you double a guy like Cousins, who can pass, they not only have a chance to get 3, but your defense is spread out and they can drive."
One player Rondo and Darren Collison may not have the luxury of kicking it to is Rudy Gay, who missed Saturday's win with a left shoulder strain and is considered day to day.
Charlotte, on the other hand, may be getting some reinforcements. Cody Zeller (ankle) and P.J. Hairston (quad) could return from respective one- and three-game absences.
Cousins (20 points, 14 rebounds) badly outplayed Jefferson (nine, six) in a 113-106 win at Charlotte on March 11, while Ben McLemore had 27 and Gay 26.
Gay did the heavy lifting nine days later against the Hornets, putting up 33 in a 101-91 victory as Cousins sat out with a quad injury.