Richard Jefferson no longer thinks about elephants

by

AT&T CENTER–It was the stuff of Bruce Bowen. With the Spurs clinging to a three-point lead in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter Tony Parker slipped through an opening in the defense and before it could close on him skipped a pass to the corner for Richard Jefferson.

Sensing the moment the crowd roared in anticipation as the ball made its way to an open shooter, without hesitation Jefferson let the shot fly and suddenly it was 2007 again. What a difference a year makes.

Lost in the frustrations of a Game 1 loss and overshadowed by the spectacle that was the return of Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson has quietly put together two solid, if unspectacular, playoff games. His last three-pointer of a 3-for-6 night from long range was the biggest, a momentum killer for the Grizzlies in typical San Antonio Spurs small forward fashion.

This time a year ago the biggest elephant in the room was the performance of the one person who was told not to think about elephants (via Pro Basketball Talk):

He wasn’t. Duncan told Jefferson not to think about elephants, so RJ did nothing but think about elephants. He told Jefferson not to suck, so RJ did nothing but, well, suck. Jefferson managed to fall short of the one goal the Spurs’ captain placed before him. A 13.1 PER? Ick. 31.6% from three? Yikes. A career-low in FTAs per 36 minutes? Oy vey.

Though he may not be the fourth star many unrealistically expected when the Spurs traded for him in their big offseason gambit two summers ago Jefferson has finally found his niche with the Spurs by expanding his comfort zones.

In last year’s playoffs Tony Parker never would have made that pass because Jefferson never would have been in that corner. Accurate from the baseline if given a few steps in from the 3-point line, Richard Jefferson almost completely abandoned the three-point line in the 2010 playoffs. It’s not that he was missing the shots that he was taking, it’s that those shots were coming from much closer to the rim than the Spurs were accustomed to and killing the spacing for the rest of the offense.

Looking at Jefferson’s shot chart from 2009-2010, as Timothy Varner did a year ago, Richard never would have gotten that shot off from his previously preferred spots against this Memphis Grizzlies team.

A decrease in points per game with an overall field goal percentage that has held steady from last year did not stir up much conversation for Richard Jefferson in Kevin Love’s Most Improved Player of the Year race, but the transformation of the crowd’s reaction from terrified silence to eager murmurs — they now expect the shot to go in — more than suffices. It is how 11 ppg easily trumps 12 ppg.

Keith Bogans jokes aside, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has long considered the small forward position a “œcenterpiece” of sorts for his system. A better term would be glue guy. Someone who can defend competently and score efficiently within the limited context of what the Spurs ask their small forwards to do.

The job description and its lack of touches do not lend themselves toward All-Star games but given the Spurs propensity for deep playoff runs over the years and the coinciding number of open shots from the corner in late clock situations playing alongside Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker provides, it does offer opportunities to create legacies or iconic moments.

In each of the San Antonio Spurs previous four championship seasons they have relied on these 3-and-D centerpieces, building a fraternity of small forwards with big moments along the way. Sean Elliott, Bruce Bowen, Stephen Jackson, Michael Finley. Wednesday night represented the first of such moments for Richard Jefferson, who famously worked hard over the summer with Popovich and the coaching staff to remake himself as a player.

The shooting percentages only hold half the story because Richard Jefferson no longer is limited to just half the court. The improvements in his shot go far beyond just the corner three, though this remains his strength. Limited to the right corner a year ago, according to NBA.com Jefferson’s shot locations are much more varied as they are more accurate. His range has extended beyond the top of the key, where he has now improved from 29% to 41%, an important stat to keep in mind against a Memphis team adamant about not giving up corner threes.

More importantly the increased range has resulted in increased confidence. Jefferson might be doing less than he has at any point in his career, but he is doing less with much more purpose. There is no longer a moment of hesitation as the ball swings to him, which is important.

Because Richard Jefferson will have more opportunities for big shots and he has no time to be thinking about elephants.

  • Anonymous

    I think RJ’s been extremely solid this year. He had a few struggle’s late in the season, but I think he was just winding down towards the playoffs. Another reason for his tail off might have been that Manu stopped playing at such a high level as the season went on. You usually find that when Manu plays well RJ plays well.

    I think this next game is a big one if we win it this series should be done in 5, maybe 6 but if they win it’s almost certainly gonna go 7

  • Chris

    Until Richard can learn not to be caught out of position defensively (he leaves his man WAY to much), he will ultimately be a liability late in the game. I appreciate the improvement, and we will really need his scoring when we got through those trademark droughts, but I feel more comfortable with a Parker/Ginobili/Hill combo when the game is on the line.

  • idahospur

    RJ has been a big help these two games. As Manu gets better, teams will be focusing on Manu and Parker, leaving RJ open for these big shots. Someone on this team needs to be making 3’s, right?

  • Sauce

    RJ makes some bonehead plays – really dumb fouls sometimes like Blair for a veteran. I am glad he is shooting the ball with more confidence. I hope this summer he and George Hill get together and work on dribbling the ball because RJ can only drive straight and if someone is in the way he picks up the dribble and looks to pass instead of attacking…

    I am really impressed with how RJ has not been a problem for us though. He has never complained about playing time, being benched a few times and especially about his touches.

    We need to get more players that are of RJ’s proportions – normal. We have too many undersized tweeners from Hill, Anderson, Neal and Blair. Even our callups were much shorter than their normal positions are (it’s early in the west coast so I am drawing blanks on names).

    Go spurs!

  • Junierizzle

    Keep it up RJ.
    Now keep attacking the rime when it presents itself.

  • Bruno

    What crazy world, RJ finally playing well, and TP choking(again)

  • grego

    That’s the design of the defense to cheat. I’m not saying he’s always cheating well, but he’s one of the main guys who is designed to cheat. If he wasn’t the one, then he’d be pulled a lot by Pop for missing defensive assignments.

    Pop can play TD/Dyess at 5 with RJ at 4 with the 3 guard lineup which is a nice option also.

  • grego

    Some of RJ’s key shots came off Parker passes. 7 assists is important as the Spurs have more than 30 wins and less than 5 losses when Parker has 7 or more assists.

    Parker’s got good shots that just aren’t falling, but he’s still aggressive. That’s a big difference from 4 years ago.

  • grego

    Butler (bigger) and Green are likely candidates to be on the team next year.

  • Anonymous

    This article has absolutely F*%k all to do with Tony so why bring him up. It’s like an article on The Hangtime blog, regardless of the article’s subject some idiot fan brings up a ‘Lakers 3peat’ or how ‘Miami will win the championship this year’. There’s a famous phrase: “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”
    Tony’s had a great year and he played well in the 2nd game so at least validate your argument with facts. Tony has treated us fans to shooting over 50% from the field unlike every other guard in the league so why don’t you just leave out the pet hates.

  • Bruno

    TP has the easiest matchup in this series and is playing horrible, fact, or do u think 33% from the field is good?

    In game 2 he played BETTER than game 1(still struggling and taking dumb shots in final minute, almost cost the game), but not even close to well.

    Mike Conley JR outplayed TP in both games, fact.
    If you think this is good, u are insane.

  • Anonymous

    You can’t just make statements like that and say, fact.
    I admit Conley outperformed Tony in game 1
    But actually if you look stats
    Conley had 13 pts 7 rebs 4 ass 5 TOs 6-15 from the field +/- = 0
    Parker had 12 pts 4 rebs 7 ass 2 TOs 1 Stl 1 Blk 6-14 from the field +/- = +4
    So I would actually say that Tony had a better game there.

    Their length and strength inside is giving our guards trouble finishing at the rim. All of our smaller players are struggling so it’s hard to just blame Tony. Obviously one on one Tony’s matchup is easiest but basketball isn’t a one on one game, it’s a team game. Not once in this series has Pop called a play for Tony to go one on one against Conley so don’t feed me that cr*p.

  • AustinSpur

    RJ + TP alley oops wd be great

  • Bruno

    Unless u are from Chicago, 10-30 FG(33%) for a guard is horrible, and he don’t shot jumpers and 3 pointers

  • Rowrbazzle

    It looks like Jefferson’s drives have been stronger lately. He actually seemed to be going toward the hoop with the intent of scoring, whether he was able to or not. I’ve also been disappointed in his regular “drive-to-pass” moves, as they often don’t seem to based on the defense. I was pleasantly surprised to see him not do that these past couple games. And given his size, he should absolutely be taking it to the hoop.

  • Jacques

    Ummm…. I know it was a while ago, but do you remember Feb 27- March 1, when we played Grizziles back-to-back? Do you remember how Tony got injured in the first game and couldn’t play the second game? If I recall correctly, that second game when Tony did not play the

    Spurs had one of the most embarrasing loss ………

    Your trying to prove that Tony played badly, but imagine how great the Spurs will be without the presence of Tony. Tony is a difference maker in the game in a positive way even when he does not perform at his highest. Same goes for Manu and Timmy. I’m not trying to attack your opinion, but just try to look at the other side.

  • Bruno

    I am not trying to prove, he played bad, is not i saying, is the stats.
    Of course he is a difference maker, he is our 3rd best player.
    Without him Spurs will play bad, like without Timmy or Manu
    I am not saying he is useless, just he played bad and he needs step up, because he has the easiest matchup, and playing like that, Spurs will suffer

  • Anonymous

    Well actually Bruno he’s shooting 3-16 on jumpshots & 7-14 on layups. Memphis have done a good job at keeping him out of the paint and they’ve contested most jumpshots. But did Manu and George also not struggle in these games. George is 5-17 in the last two games and Manu shot 5-13 on Wednesday.
    Just because you shoot a poor percentage doesn’t mean you played bad. Manu didn’t shoot well but he effected the game at the defensive end. Tony did a good job at creating for others. He set up two wide open 3’s for RJ and he got him a jumpshot early to get him going. He also got Dice a point blank layup late in the game. Like you say though Derrick Rose shoots an average percentage but I’d take him every other point guard in the league, not named Chris Paul.

  • Bruno

    I would take Deron Williams, Westbrook, Paul, Nash and even Rondo over him

  • Anonymous

    Sorry I meant D Rose. I’d take D Will, Rose, Westbrook, Paul and maybe Rondo over Parker. Nobody else not even Nash

  • Jacques

    I’d still take Parker over everyone else. I don’t think their individual talent will translate into the Spurs system very well. Maybe Chris Paul as the only exception.

    But of course, it’s not llike we can exchange those players :P

  • Bruno

    I was saying who i take over D.Rose, not TP. Over TP would be just Paul, Deron and Nash

  • http://spursworld.wordpress.com Robby Lim

    I think RJ is doing a good job this year. He shoots the ball better and has a good feel of the game when he is on the floor. Besides from his time to time passiveness, I like what he is doing for the Spurs now than last year.

  • Dr. Who

    Ur usually on point Bruno, but I cannot agree with this one bit. Ur totally minimizing what Conely and the Griz have been able to do to elite PG’s. U named Rondo and Rose as PG’s u’d like to have. He destroyed Rondo and held the MVP Rose to 27% shooting leading up to the playoffs. I’ve already stated what he did to CP3 (0pts , 4pts) leading up to the playoffs. What is there to understand man??? This team and Conely have been under the radar. Rome had Conley on right before the playoffs and asked why no one in the national media was noticing what he was doing on D to PG’s. Trust me, this is not the series for TP to average 24pts a game. This is NOT an easy match up for him. To say it is is absolutely overlooking what Conely and the Griz have done to ur elite PG’s u mentioned at the end of the season. The game results don’t back up ur argument. Let’s hope TP has a solid game with high assists and low turnovers; he can let someone else score. Seriously… research the Griz D. This is about what I expected from TP for thebseries with 1 or 2 high scoring games the rest about where he’s at now. Game 1 was NOT what I expected from McDyess however. He stunk it up big time, but he had a solid game 2. Keep posting! We’ll rather agree or disagree; either way we still want the same thing… A Spurs win!

  • SPURSGERMANY

    AMEN

  • SPURSGERMANY

    DO NOT CARE HOW ONLY CARE ABOUT A WIN TONITE!!!!!

  • Colin Rigney

    “Driving straight” has always been Jefferson’s game. He has never been a 3-4 dribble slasher/creator. He doesn’t need to change and as long as he takes 1 dribble, maybe two, to the hole he will be what this team needs in a playoff push.

    Jefferson will need to keep hitting clutch shots, choose his drives, and rebound the hell out of the ball throughout these playoffs if the Spurs have any hope of getting to the finals.

  • Betsy Duncan

    Boys in black need to keep the momentum going! RJ is key, if only for the rebounding and put backs. But some timely hoops would be beneficial and welcomed, too. It’s going to be a madhouse up in there. Probably as physical as the other games (in the other brackets) have been. We’ve got to want it more and ALL of our guys need to bring their A+ games!

  • Bruno

    Over TP, i would like to have just CP3, Deron and Nash.
    Not D.Rose or Rondo.
    Man, TP is missing layups, usually he makes them, this is the problem

  • Dr. Who

    I’d take Rose… Maybe. He’s taken his game to a new level this year. He’s carried the Bulls in tight games. Fun to watch. Big question on Rose is if he can continue on the biggest stage under the highest pressure. That kid is all kinds of amazing, putting the Bulls on his back during crunch time. But till he gets a ring, he hasn’t proven what he can do with all that talent. We’ll have to wait and see.

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  • http://regularfan.blogspot.com/ Humberto

    RJ has put a lot of work in the offseason to better fit in with the Spurs style of offense. It really shows.