Building up from zero, Richard Jefferson finds his place

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Richard Jefferson spent months preparing for this moment, working through weeks and weeks of repetition until it became second nature, muscle memory taking over.

So with eyes on him, and with an assist from Manu Ginobili, the Spurs small forward locked in, squared up, and….laughed?

Surrounded by a few remaining beat writers , Jefferson, standing in his usual spot in front of his locker, which is next to Manu Ginobili’s, had a little fun with his teammate, all at the writers’ expense, of course.

Having just finished one of his finest performances in a Spurs uniform, a 111-103 San Antonio Spurs victory over the Houston Rockets to end the preseason, Jefferson had a question he is sure to hear often this season intercepted by Manu Ginobili.

Asked if the night’s performance reflected the hard work he famously put in over the summer with Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, Jefferson and Ginobili burst out in a fit of laughter.

“I knew it, I knew it,” Ginobili cracked. “I’ll wait for the answer, I told him what to answer to that question.”

Jefferson shifted quickly into Tim Duncan  interview mode, flawlessly performing Ginobili’s script as if he had rehearsed it along with his jumper all summer.

“I worked really hard, took a thousand shots a day,” Jefferson deadpanned. “And it’s thanks to the constant tutelage of Pop and the ridicule of my teammates that I, you now, tried to get better.”

Adept as Ginobili and Jefferson are at predicting post game media questions, figuring out the upcoming season will prove to be much more difficult. But if the Spurs are to find an ending they like, Jefferson will have to have a large say in it, independent of his new publicist.

The last preseason game notwithstanding, the results have been similar to a year ago but the process looks remarkably better.

By attacking on the catch and on the move, without hesitation, Jefferson has found the driving lanes much cleaner than last season, when he often began his work from a complete stand still. The aggressive approach has not always paid off in a high field goal percentage, but has put Jefferson at the free throw line where he is hitting so far this season.

“He’s making quicker decisions and being stronger at the rim, and he’s worked on his shot and release,” Popovich said. “I think he’s doing a really good job and has followed through on what he worked on all summer.”

More of a finisher than a scorer, as we learned last year, a lot of the work in the summer was simply into how to approach the game. In New Jersey,  Jefferson could break down his box score before a game even tipped off.

Pencil in 5 or 6 points out of the offense, 6 points in transition, and 4 or 5 free throws and you get the bulk of Jefferson’s career offensive totals.

“Before I even had a game going I had 16 points to start, everything after that was up to how I did that night,” Jefferson said. “Here it’s like I’m starting from zero.”

More of an acknowledgment than frustration, Jefferson understands that most of the play calls are earmarked for the trio of Duncan, Ginobili, or Tony Parker. Each having a few of their own pet plays, like the backdoor pass that scores at least one basket between Duncan and Parker every night.

Through the preseason Jefferson has been able to find his own niche,  finishing with a glimpse of what could be when everything is going well. Keeping that performance as consistent as media questions during the regular season is the task.

“You feel more comfortable, and that’s what the preseason is for, but when the regular season comes and you’re playing back to back games and four games in five nights, that will the be the true test of how your shot feels,” Jefferson said. “It’s all about what you do when the bright lights are shining.”

Last season’s frustrations behind Jefferson and the Spurs, with the preseason over, both can start anew, from zero. The regular season begins next week.