Should we expect a bounce-back year from Richard Jefferson?
The Spurs acquired Richard Jefferson before the 2009-10 season in hopes of supplementing Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and absorbing some of the scoring load. They paid him like an All-Star to do so.
The previous season RJ had averaged nearly 20 points per game, making 116 3-point shots and getting to the line over 500 times. There were several reasons to suspect that Jefferson would be one of the most potent 4th options in the NBA. However, as Spurs fans well know, most of these expectations have not been met. Jefferson averaged just over 12 points and converted only 59 3-pointers while attempting 287 free throws.
In the past few months the Spurs renewed focus on Richard Jefferson reaching his potential. Many are hopeful that he will be more comfortable with his role this year and there is noticeable optimism that he will improve on last year’s performance, perhaps significantly. But does a player typically improve the second year after a player changes teams? Should the Spurs have expected a substantial drop in RJ’s scoring output last year?
What should the Spurs have expected from RJ in 2010?
There are several reasons that a decrease in scoring was not unusual given RJ’s situation. First of all, the Spurs were a better team than theÂ MilwaukeeÂ Bucks, Jefferson’s previous team. This is part of the reason Jefferson’s MPG were reduced from 36 to 31.
Additionally, a reduction in the number of shots attempts could be expected to decrease given that the Spurs had better alternatives than the Bucks. If we only account for age, the decrease in minutes and the differences between the Spurs and the Bucks; I would expect someone with Jefferson’s 2009 production to average 16.4 PPG in 2010.
I also found that players who switched teams actually saw an additional drop, especially when they were added to quality teams. In Jefferson’s case, this would mean an additional drop expectation to 16 PPG. This difference doesn’t sound like much, but it shows that there is some level of adjustment that players and/or coaches go through after acquiring new personnel.
It is certainly reasonable that some players have a more difficult time fitting in. The optimistic take is that perhaps Jefferson, in particular, struggled with the adjustment last year (instead of being a poor fit or having some less fixable issue). In that case, it would be reasonable to suspect a significant improvement in year two.
The following table consists of players who were utilized significantly less the year after being acquired by their new team. I have included the points per 36 minutes the year before, during and after switching teams. All seasons consists of at least 2,000 minutes played. (Statistics courtesy of databasebasketball.com.)
|Player||Year||Team||Age||Last Yr Pts Per 36 MP||Pts Per 36 MP||Next Yr Pts Per 36 MP|
In total, there were few very recent, relevant entries. Ray Allen, Jason Terry and Rashard Lewis were perhaps the three most recent significant players on this list.
Allen teamed up with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the Boston Three Party for the 2007-08 championship season. He appeared to knowingly take a larger than normal role reduction because of the dynamic of the team.
Most analysts were not surprised that Allen’s scoring dropped nine points per game after arriving in Boston — his new role was less prominent, and Paul Piece already occupied the role previous teams had reserved for Allen. Because of this, it also shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Ray Allen did not increase his scoring role the following year.
Jason Terry’s situation represents a noticeable bounce-back year after a year in which he struggled to adjust to the new environment. Terry averaged only 12.4 points in 30 minutes his first year with the Dallas Mavericks in 2004-05. The following year those totals increased to 17 PPG in 35 MPG. Since then, his points per 36 minutes have never fallen below 17, topping out with nearly 20 PPG in under 34 MPG in 2008-09.
It is important to note, however, that Jason Terry started out by averaging less than 10 PPG over the first two months of the his first year and continued to improve, finishing the season averaging 17.5 points and 38.8 minutes in 13 playoff games.
Rashard Lewis might have experienced the most typical results in the above table. His scoring average dropped from 22.4 to 18.2 in his first year with Orlando in 2007-08, despite maintaining a high level of minutes. Although his scoring average dropped again the following year to 17.9, his TSA/48 increased from 19.7 to 20.4 despite a slight decrease in the Magic’s pace in 2008-09.
Jefferson’s 2011 outlook
Although Richard Jefferson had the same Offensive Rating in 2010 that he had in 2009, his diminished role should have resulted in an improvement of about five points per 100 possessions. The fact that he played on a better team also typically results in better individual efficiency. He was utilized more on plays with high scoring expectations such as cuts and less on low probability plays such as isolations.
With players like Duncan, Ginobili and Parker available to the Spurs, there is little reason for Jefferson to be used in isolation plays at the level he was accustomed to in Milwaukee and New Jersey, but his level of aggression should remain high.
It’s still very early, but there are some early reasons for optimism. After two games, his 15 free throws attempted in 55 minutes are a good sign. Including preseason numbers, he has averaged 6.6 free throws per 36 minutes. This figure is closer to his peak New Jersey/Milwaukee years.
Jefferson would also likely benefit from an increased role in the 3-point game. Not only did he attempt 3-pointers 50% more frequently in 2009, but he shot nearly 40%. According to SynergySports, He was only utilized on 67 “Off-Screen” possessions last year. In prior years, Jefferson has efficiently been utilized in around 250 Off-Screen possessions.
There is reason to suspect a modest increase in Richard Jefferson’s contributions to the Spurs in 2011. However, I wouldn’t count on a Jason Terry-like return to form.