Moving Richard Jefferson: The Spurs best way to utilize him
It’s no surprise that Richard Jefferson faces a lot of pressure in his second season on the San Antonio Spurs. In his first, Jefferson came with the weight of a $15 million salary. And while averages of 12.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game were decent, they did not fulfill the expectations many fans and team personnel had. Even though he’ll be playing at a reduced price in 2010-11, the belief that he should play at a level worthy of a $15 million contract will still be there.
Earlier this summer, our amigo Sebastian Pruiti of Nets Are Scorching and NBA Playbook took a pretty good look at what Richard Jefferson did, and didn’t do, well last year. According to Synergy Sports, in the Spurs’ half court offense Jefferson was most effective scoring the ball off of cuts. He was sixth in the NBA last year with 1.61 points per possession when shooting off of a cut. Unfortunately for Jefferson and the Spurs, RJ only shot off a slash 8% of the time. RJ spent far more time spotting up (33.9%) and missing (just .91 points per possession).
A very large portion of the plays Jefferson scored off a cut were because of penetrate-and-kick plays, double teams on teammates, offensive rebounds and broken plays. But San Antonio had two set plays that they ran in order to free him in the half court and get him on the move.
The first play San Antonio used was an alley-oop play. In the following charts, powered by FastDraw technology, you can see the progression of the play and how the Spurs were able to free Jefferson for the dunk.
In this first diagram, the point guard brings the ball to the opposite side of the floor that RJ sets up at. The center, who usually in-bounds the ball on the other end of the floor and trails the play, switches places with the power forward, who comes up and sets a pick for the point guard. The point guard rubs off the pick and dribbles away from Jefferson’s side of the floor.
After coming off the pick, the point guard passes the ball to the shooting guard on the wing, and then the point guard cuts under the basket and goes all the way to the opposite sideline. The power forward rolls to the opposite block after setting the pick for the point guard, and the center curls from the opposite block to set a screen for the shooting guard who just received the pass. Jefferson slowly moves up near the top of the 3-point line.
The shooting guard dribbles off the pick set by the center and comes up to the top of the key. Here, he passes the ball to Jefferson.
After passing the ball to Jefferson, the 2-guard ventures back to where he came from and the center rolls slowly back to the block. RJ swings the ball to the wing where the point guard set up.
After swinging the ball to the point guard, Richard Jefferson follows the ball and acts like he’s going to set a pick for the point. It’s a believable move, because Spurs players often set immediate picks for the ball handler right after making the pass.
But on this play, RJ fakes setting the pick and curls around a back screen from the power forward. If the player guarding the power forward isn’t paying attention and the guy guarding the center hasn’t returned to help position, there’s an open lane to the basket for a finish at the rim.
Now here’s the play with real people acting it out:
Gotta love that Amare Stoudemire help defense.
The next play is one the Spurs used a couple variations of during the year. Its basic purpose is to free Richard Jefferson as he cuts to the basket, similar to the previous play, but it’s not designed to lead to an alley-oop.
RJ sets up on one wing with the shooting guard occupying the other. The power forward sets up on the block nearest to Jefferson. The point guard brings the ball up the floor on the side closer to Richard Jefferson and swings the ball to trailing big man on the opposite side.
The center who just received the pass swings it around the 3-point line to the shooting guard. As this goes on, the power forward on the block turns and sets a screen for Richard Jefferson.
RJ has two options here. He can go baseline on the screen or go on top of the screen. Going over the screen usually gets him a better look at the basket when he receives the pass, but the defender is usually cheating that way and trying to prevent him that route. Either way he chooses, Jefferson will usually fake one way and go the other. If he’s open, he receives a pass from the shooting guard at or near the rim.
One variation the Spurs executed on this play is having the power forward set the screen higher up the lane. This usually affords Jefferson a little more space to work with when he gets the ball. Instead of immediately going up for the shot, like he would do when he caught it near the basket, Jefferson could catch the ball in the middle of the lane and take a jump shot, throw an up-fake, or curl off the screen and go toward the basket.
In the following play, which came in San Antonio’s first round series against the Dallas Mavericks, the Spurs run a variation of this play. In this instance, instead of the point guard passing the ball to the trailing center and the center swinging it to the two-guard, the center set a down-screen for Manu Ginobili, playing shooting guard, and Ginobili received the ball from the point guard at the top of the 3-point arc. Manu then hit Richard Jefferson with a pass at the rim after Jefferson came off of the Tim Duncan screen. Jefferson sees Dallas’ Caron Butler cheating over the Duncan screen, so RJ goes baseline and beats the Mavs forward for a layup.
Last season, the Spurs played Dallas four times in the regular season and six times in the playoffs. Adding little wrinkles to set plays, like changing where the pass comes from, is important to keep plays effective. The Mavericks saw this play several times in person last year and even more on film. But changing the angle gives the defense a different look than they’re expecting.