Richard Jefferson is a pretty good fourth option

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Somewhat lost in the shuffle of Antonio McDyess’ tip-in and Gary Neal’s mad scramble toss-up, was the shift put in by Richard Jefferson against the Lakers on Thursday night.

RJ scored 18 points on 7-12 from the floor and 4-8 from the 3-point line. Over the last five games, Jefferson is putting up 13.8 points per game on 57% from the field and almost 46% from 3-point range, which are all slight bumps above his season averages.

Early in the season everybody, me included, made a big deal about how much improvement Jefferson showed compared to last season. And for good reason, he averaged about 15 points a game through November. But then things seemed to tail off a bit and he seemed to regress.

That’s not quite the truth, though. Jefferson has improved measurably compared to last year. You just have to think about the role he improved for. RJ didn’t put in all the hours of work last summer to become the go-to guy in the Spurs offense. Jefferson worked on fitting into his role as the fourth option on the team.

His 3-point percentage was the main point of emphasis, as any role player not playing with his back to the basket needs to be a good perimeter shooter to be a Spur. And last season, Jefferson was not that. Now RJ is a 42% shooter from behind the arc and things are sweet.

Jefferson also had to simply learn the offense. As the small forward and small-ball 4, he has to know practically every position on the floor. Last season Jefferson had to constantly be aware of where he was, what he was doing, where his teammates were, etc. This season the offense is almost second nature to him, and instead of figuring out where to go, he can simply react to the game as it happens.

DeJuan Blair talked a couple of weeks ago after the win at home against the Knicks about not thinking and just being able to play, and that’s what has happened to Jefferson this season. Less thinking, more playing.

RJ isn’t the scoring threat that he once was, and for good reason. But the Spurs have fit him into their system and while he may have low scoring nights, with a few pet plays and improved 3-point shooting, he’s everything the Spurs expected when they traded for him.

  • Chris WAMBO

    He was clutch last night!

    GO SPURS GO

  • SpurredOn

    Excellent and accurate analysis. Last night he was exactly what you want from your fourth option; a great quarter or very good half while other guys find their rhythm. Some nights he’ll have a match-up advantage he can expose for a big game, other nights it’ll just be about defense and rebounding. And when he’s left wide open as the “make him beat us” player, he can be the player that gives his team that fourth win in a series.

  • AmyfromLA

    Yay for RJ 2.0! =)

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  • DorieStreet

    RJ last 4 games have been stellar offensively. A few touches and looks in the 1st qtr, then opportunites later on in the games, and he stays sharp. He also is taking care of the ball- only 1 TO per game average. RJ needs to continue to improve defensively; only 1 steal, 3 rb/game. He (and other Spurs) need to get their hands on more errant passes, get strips.

  • Judd

    I don’t want to even think about where we would be without his timely 3’s with bonner still hurt. rj does a great job of staying smart and patient while still being aggressive. when he gets the open look he doesn’t hesitate; he takes it, but he rarely forces something that isn’t there. the spurs may not have the most talented roster in the nba (but we’ve got talent!), but they clearly have the best team because our guys know their roles and more importantly, have the ability to put their egos aside and play within them. go spurs go. i still can’t stop smiling about last night’s game.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    R-Jeff has been a double nutted stud this season! He can score when he needs to, drive or spot up for the 3, his defense is big-time better than it was and he seems to believe more in himself and really looks comfortable out there knowing he is not a rental but actually a key part of this team.

    Congrats R-Jeff, keep it up and you’ll be sizing yourself up for your 1st NBA Championship Ring!

  • Tyler

    It’s really less about the #’s RJ puts up. It’s more about being in the right spots at the right time and taking the shots we need him to take.

    This year, he’s doing that and it’s helped improve the overall flow of the offense drastically.

    To borrow a cliche: You’re only as strong as your weakest link. When your weakest link is in the wrong spot not doing what you need him to do, it hurts everyone; it makes everyone’s job tougher. But when that’s corrected, and everyone is on the same page, good things can happen.

  • quincyscott

    There are so many good stories about this year’s team, it’s hard not to overlook some. RJ’s improved play is a gift that keeps on giving. Looking at some of the joyful photos at the end of last night’s game, I see McDyess bear-hugged by Jefferson and Neal. How those guys have now become vital to this team’s chemistry and success.

    As impressed as I continue to be at the kind of match-up problems the Lakers and Celtics can give people, it’s easy to forget that the Spurs create a lot of match-up problems themselves. They have smartly found ways to maximize the skills of Jefferson, Blair, Dice, Bonner and Neal. This is some team. It is way to early to compare this year’s Spurs to any past teams; the story is not fully written. But I don’t think they have ever had a team that got so much from so many players. A team effort, with no towering star.

  • Bankshot21

    This is who we thought we were getting last year. We traded for a player who just had a career year from 3pt land shooting @ 40% a clip. I want him to get more touches on the block. He’s stronger than most @ the position and still has above average leaping ability.

  • Thaddeus Clark

    I think it is also important to mention that as of the Blazer game/loss RJ has made a big adjustment in his dribble-drives. He now drives with his head-up scanning the floor. It led to some assists and hockey assists in the Blazers game.

    After having several games in which he was called for charging in the 4th quarter down-the-stretch I feel this simple adjustment is both basic and brilliant.

  • NYC

    Last night, he started the game on fire. He got three early touches and shot lights out with no hesitation whatsoever. His body language, and the look in his eyes said it all. If this were NBA Jam, his shots would have been streaking rainbows of flame, singeing the net. I thought right then we would win this game.

    Which is why I’m doubly surprised they went away from him for the next 2 quarters. Why do they always do that? I understand we got to get other guys involved, and the other team will adjust for RJ if he is on fire, but why not make him the first or second option while he is on fire? Have the coaches never played NBA Jam? Give the ball to the guy with the hot hand while his confidence is up, and he is more likely to make the shot. Make the other team have to beat him before going with other options. Right?

    Obviously it’s more complicated than that, and the Spurs coaching staff know better than me what they are doing, but it always confounds me why they go away from RJ just as he catches fire. He doesn’t HAVE to be the 4th option. If he is heating up, go ahead and make him the second option, maybe even first depending on the situation. Call plays for him. Run them into the ground, until the other team figures out how to adjust. Why fix what ain’t broke? He did used to be the high scorer for his team, so it’s not like he isn’t capable of being The Man.

    Does Pop not have confidence that RJ can continue to produce over the course of the game? That’s not good. If the coach doesn’t believe you can fill in as the no. 1/ no. 2 option for a night, then how can the player? Or is it just that having been without a scoring SF for so long, our system is not built to get consistent opportunities for the SF spot? In which case, we need to change or add to the system.

  • NYC

    Right now our game seems completely guard oriented, which is why Hill and Neal can step in at any point and go off for 20+ points. But we’re not built to get that kind of production from our forwards. They are relegated to being spot-up shooters from behind the arc and being beneficiaries of broken plays. They’re like scavengers, having to pick up whatever crumbs are leftover after our guards have picked a play clean.

    Think about Duncan, Bonner, and Jefferson. Duncan has declined. Or so it seems. I can’t say how much he has really declined because he doesn’t get consistent touches in the post anymore to get a true assessment.

    Bonner has added a driving element to his game. No one, and I mean no one, expects him to put the ball on the floor. Make or miss, I think we should allow him to drive to the basket every blue moon just to make it that much harder for the opposing defense when they have to account for the possibility that our PF may drive the lane, not just our guards. If he makes it just 1 out of every 5 times, the other team will have to worry about sagging off him or leaving a lane open. This would undoubtedly make things easier for our other guys, no?

    McDyess and Blair are the only ones with consistent plays drawn for them, and that is because they pick and roll (or pop) with the guards.

    (I think this also explains why Tiago gets no burn. He can’t shoot mid-range, and his touch around the rim so far has been ugly. Therefore, he is left out of the offensive scheme of things. If he isn’t playing stellar defense, Pop will pull him in favor of someone else who will at least provide an offensive threat. And being in his first year with the Spurs, not to mention the NBA, of course Tiago will be lost/confused on defense a lot. Playing on this team and for Popovich, he isn’t afforded the luxury of making mistakes. One bad mistake and his ass is benched.)

    And then there’s RJ. He is capable of doing more than we currently ask of him. This article makes a great point of how he has worked hard to fit our system and be the 4th option, but I wonder if we aren’t shooting ourselves in the foot by being content to use him as only a 4th option. When he is “on” and his confidence high, we should modify our game and give him the ball. Let him attack the basket rather than wait for Tony or Manu to initiate. Let him draw fouls and get points through FTs. Keep him involved and he will continue to be aggressive. We saw how worthless he is last season when he is passive. But he is worth his weight in gold when he is aggressive and attacking. Even if he is not scoring, having him perceived as a threat will make it easier on our other 4 guys, including the guards. And we can only achieve this by actually putting the ball in his hands more often–especially when he is on fire!

    We are living or dying by our guards. This has been successful so far, true, but I worry that other teams will figure us out by playoff time. We should use our cushion to try out game plans that aren’t predicated on guard play. Sooner or later, other teams WILL catch on and make it their mission to shut down our guards. And then it will be too late to adjust.

    I believe RJ is our X factor come playoff time. We pretty much know what we will get from Timmy, Manu, Tony, Hill, Neal, and McDyess. More than anyone else, RJ has the potential to put this team over the top, and we’ve yet to tap him fully. I really think he will be the difference between edging out the Lakers/Celtics and just coming up short.

  • SAJKinBigD

    @NYC: Good points! And I loved NBA Jams! Heheheh!
    I agree about RJ – I think he’ll be a difference-maker in either of those series. And I’d like him to do that as I still can toss it in other teams’ fans faces that we’ve won EVERY time we’ve been to the finals. :D

  • DorieStreet

    @ NYC

    It’s not a lack of confidence from Pop; I think the problem is on the floor- Manu shooting too much @ the wrong times–taking away more touches –and scores–from RJ. The switch in team strategy that elevated the offensive game to be uptempo and guard-driven– makes the former 21 ppg scorer defer in all situations–instead of getting teammates to give him opportunities whether the offense is either struggling or running on all cylinders. Some of Manu’s shots are so ill-timed or so poorly set up by him that they should be considered turnovers–great chances for points but just thrown away, like an errant pass or traveling.

  • SAJKinBigD

    Great game from the Good Guys!
    TP would not be denied! Good solid game from Splitter! Was it just planned rest for Timmy or did something happen? Didn’t see the game, just the box score… A little scared…
    And why the disparity in Free Throws? Home Court Ad or lotsa jumpers from our guys (with most falling)?

  • Colin

    Great call and good plug for RJ. He is definitely showing himself as a true professional. He simply made himself better through truly hard work in the off-season.

    Its obvious he wasn’t just playing lollipop last summer!

  • grego

    ^Parker just tore the Kings a new one from the start of the game.

    It’s also the second game of a back to back after a tough Lakers game. Pop got exactly what he could have hoped for from Tiago/Blair/Dice. That way he was able to rest Duncan.

    @DorieStreet – I don’t want RJ reaching. He tends to play the best perimeter player on the other team. You don’t want him trying to gamble, but stay in front and hit the boards.

    His rebounding has dropped a little recently, but he’s still getting key rebounds. He’s still rebounding better since November.

  • SAJKinBigD

    I think TP’s head was a little out early-on in the Lakers’ game, as he must’ve been dealing with issues around the divorce which was finalized Friday. Glad to see he came roaring back against the Kings.

  • bong p.

    Splitter showed glimpses of his potential against Sacramento, particularly in the bread-and-butter pick-and-roll in partnership with Ginobili. Moreover, he gave Timmy and Dice breathing spell after the previous night’s workout vs. the Lakers. You wanted another big, yes, Splitter can.