Richard Jefferson close to solving offensive problems

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AT&T CENTER — Richard Jefferson no longer looks unsure on this San Antonio Spurs team. Every step and every dribble oozes with intent. Every head fake and dribble has a purpose. When his body moves, it knows exactly why it’s doing what it is. Everything appears in sync.

Looking a the box scores, though, and you wouldn’t believe it. 2-9 from the field and eight points at Houston in the first preseason game. 3 for 7 and 11 points a couple of nights later against the Heat. 2-7 for five points against the Clippers in Mexico City. 2-3 and six points against Caja Laboral on Saturday night. And 3-8 for 12 points on Monday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Those numbers bear resemblance to the averages RJ put up in his disappointing first season with the Spurs.

Though his stat lines don’t paint the picture of improvement in Jefferson’s offensive game, the intent is there. The six free throws Jefferson shot against the Heat and seven he earned versus the Thunder point to the small forward’s honed-in aggressiveness.

“I’ve been here a little over a year and I’m still getting more and more comfortable,” Jefferson said after San Antonio’s 111-102 loss to the Thunder. “I’m going to get more comfortable in the offense, just like everyone else, especially as we get used to each other.”

If Jefferson is at all uncomfortable on offense for the Spurs, it doesn’t show. His summer of working with head coach Gregg Popovich and assistant coach Chad Forcier fine-tuned his reactions in the system when the Spurs have the ball.

Is the defender off-balance when he catches the ball on the wing? It’s to the rim or bust.

Is his man giving him space or late rotating on the perimeter? He’s finally shooting the jumper with no hesitation.

Jefferson is also correctly positioned on the floor more often than not this preseason. He’s returned to the 3-point line when located away from the ball, instead of a step inside the arc like last season, when he threw off San Antonio’s spacing and made it easier for his defenders to help inside. Once the shots start to fall and he raises his 33% shooting from the 3-point line, every Spur on the court will be that much harder to guard against.

“You feel more and 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 be the true test of how your shot feels,” Jefferson said.

Think of Richard Jefferson’s game like a math equation. The Spurs don’t just want him to stumble across the right answer (or score points), they want him to figure out the process of how to get that answer and show his work. Right now, Jefferson is close to figuring out that equation. He’s got to carry the two and divide the remainder and follow the order of operations, all that good stuff. Once he does that, he can come up with the right answer, game after game.

For better or worse, Jefferson is not impatient to get where he needs to. He knows that despite the improvement he’s showing, there’s still a ways to go.

“A lot of times when I score points, it’s off of playing with my teammates, but it’s still going to take years to get used to,” Jefferson said.

But even with performing better in preseason, Jefferson realizes it’s going to take more to impress even the most optimistic of Spurs fans.

“It’s all about what you do when the bright lights are shining.”

  • bduran

    Despite not having a great FG% this season, his TS % is 55.8. This is just below his career average and higher than the last two regular seasons. This is thanks to his new found aggressiveness. For his career he’s taken .47 FTs for ever FGA. Last year this was down to .37. So far this preseason he’s at .64. If he can keep that up he’ll be reasonably efficient even without a better FG%. If his shot starts falling, well, look out.

  • Tyler

    ^^Good point.

    Last year, RJ was at his best when he didn’t settle for jumpers and attacked the rim. If he continues to be aggressive, it should lead to drawn fouls, free throws, and easy points for the Spurs.

    And that sense of confidence in the system should also carry over to his jumper. One of the things I remember from last year was that in almost all of RJ’s good games, he got an easy bucket or two to start the game. After that, his jumper looked smoother and more confident.

    RJ’s mantra this year: Be aggressive and don’t hesitate

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  • The Beat Counselor

    So I haven’t had the chance to watch any pre-season games. So how is RJ actually getting the ball? Is TP finally giving him the rock or is it Manu still? What option would you say RJ is on offense now? When TP and Manu aren’t on the floor at the same time, but when TD is on the floor, is RJ the 3rd option?

    I am salivating at the talent of our perimeter if RJ can get his act together. It is so key to our sucess.

    @bduran

    Just what I was wondering after reading the article. Perfect 1st comment.

  • Jim Henderson

    bduran’s point is well-taken. RJ’s game has always been about slashing and getting out in transition. And the fact is the more you “slash” the more you’re going to the line, and the more you go to the line the more efficient your offensive production becomes. For RJ this basic principle is even more true for two reasons: (1) RJ is a mediocre 3-point shooter; and (2), RJ’s shooting efficiency from the perimeter increases dramatically while in the flow of the action, and in the midst of having offensive success as a result of aggressive actions (driving hard to the cup for lay-up/dunk, cutting back-door for lay-up or ally-oop dunk, rebound put-back, etc.).

    RJ should pretty much never take an open jumper to start a game. RJ is not a confident shooter until he establishes some success with the rest of his game. Aggressive play needs to be maintained throughout the game for his shot to stay dependable. For RJ the keys this year are consistency & aggressiveness on both ends of the floor. Let’s just hope he can deliver.

  • rob

    “A lot of times when I score points, it’s off of playing with my teammates, but it’s still going to take years to get used to,” Jefferson said.”

    I sure hope the last part of that statement isn’t true.

    This team or Jefferson doesn’t have “years” to figure it out.

    And while I haven’t seen too many games yet this pre-season…my concern more than his scoring percentage is his ability to defend. That needed much improvement as well.

  • grego

    ^From what I have read, since most games haven’t been shown, RJ’s defense has improved. To what level of expectations (realistic or not), is the real question though.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Lenneezz

    “I am salivating at the talent of our perimeter if RJ can get his act together. It is so key to our sucess.”

    Well said BC.

  • chuck

    his rotation seems better this preseason as opposed to last season where he was always about five to ten feet from his man. what i like about his defense is that when the offensive player takes a jumpshot, he always tries to go after the block, even if he’s lagging in the rotation.

  • rob

    grego

    “To what level of expectations (realistic or not), is the real question though.”

    Yep.

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