Should we expect a bounce-back year from Richard Jefferson?

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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 the Milwaukee 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.

Historical examples

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.)

PlayerYearTeamAgeLast Yr Pts Per 36 MPPts Per 36 MPNext Yr Pts Per 36 MP
Average19.115.716.4
Kiki Vandeweghe1984/85POR2630.223.325.3
Adrian Dantley1986/87DET3029.722.923.2
World Free1980/81GSW2728.623.823.0
Moses Malone1982/83PHI2726.723.522.2
Jeff Malone1990/91UTA2925.518.720.2
Ray Allen2007/08BOS3223.617.518.0
Charles Barkley1996/97HOU3322.618.216.6
Stephon Marbury2001/02PHO2422.518.920.1
Glen Rice1995/96CHA2821.919.622.6
Dale Ellis1992/93SAS3220.918.016.3
Rashard Lewis2007/08ORL2820.617.317.6
Isaiah Rider1996/97POR2520.417.218.8
Marques Johnson1984/85LAC2820.417.421.1
Otis Thorpe1988/89HOU2620.015.717.1
Hersey Hawkins1993/94CHA2719.916.015.4
Artis Gilmore1982/83SAS3319.519.017.4
Allan Houston1996/97NYK2518.916.119.1
Truck Robinson1982/83NYK3118.511.411.8
Elton Brand2001/02LAC2218.517.316.8
Larry Johnson1996/97NYK2718.313.416.2
Armen Gilliam1996/97MIL3218.012.115.7
Jamal Crawford2004/05NYK2417.716.615.9
Jack Sikma1986/87MIL3117.714.816.7
Sedale Threatt1991/92LAL3017.714.515.4
Desmond Mason2005/06NOO2817.113.014.4
Grant Hill2007/08PHO3516.714.914.5
Lamar Odom2004/05LAL2516.415.113.3
Sam Perkins1990/91LAL2916.314.116.1
Jason Terry2004/05DAL2716.214.917.6
Derrick Mckey1993/94IND2715.312.613.8
Brad Miller2003/04SAC2715.113.915.1
Rodney Mccray1990/91DAL2915.111.911.6
Horace Grant1994/95ORL2914.812.713.3
Doug Christie2000/01SAC3014.412.212.5
Anthony Mason2001/02MIL3514.39.07.9
Michael Cage1988/89SEA2614.211.711.1
P.j. Brown2000/01CHA3111.98.79.4
Shane Battier2006/07HOU2810.410.09.2

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.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Thanks, Scott, that’s a really interesting analysis. However, I don’t know whether I agree with the your relatively conservative conclusion, based on these examples. If you control a bit more for age and position, eliminating comparisons with interior players like Moses Malone or Elton Brand and older perimeter players like Dale Ellis or Ray Allen (who typically are losing effectiveness with each year), I think a strong bounceback year seems much more likely for RJ. And of course the fact that the Spurs seem determined to increase both their pace and Jefferson’s role only adds to it.

    The real X-factor in all of this is the role of injury in your examples. I’m struggling to recall how many of the big bounceback years came after injuries the previous season. In some cases, though, the traded players may have been struggling with injuries and simply bounced back because of good health. For instance if memory serves, Marques Johnson (perhaps the player most similar to RJ on this list) was really banged up when he was first traded to the Clippers. I remember an article at the time about how banged up he and Bill Walton both were (which quoted Kareem sarcastically referring to Walton as “Dr. Scholl”).

    Certainly, RJ looks a lot more like himself than he did last year.

  • bduran

    Ray Allen pretty much performed at the same level in Boston, he just had less of a role which was probably good considering his age. RJ also performed similarly with the Bucks as with the Spurs as you point out, which was not great. However, he did improve in the second half of the season. I was hoping for a modest improvement over his second half numbers. What we’ve so far in the preseason and in the first two games far outperforms what I was hoping far. If he can somehow maintain this level of play the Spurs will be really good. Especially once we work out the kinks in our front court.

    “Certainly, RJ looks a lot more like himself than he did last year.”

    Well, he looks like a young, healthy, peak form RJ, something that hasn’t been for a few years.

  • DiehardSpur

    I am really happy RJ is playing great. I con only hope that he stays as aggressive as he has been so far.

    I would like to talk about the back-up position for
    a minute.

    I think James Anderson, so far, has solidified his spot as the back-up small forward.

    As far as Bobby Simmons is concerned, I think we are wasting our time. The guy has nice size, and thats all you can say. He isnt a great defender, not a great shooter (so far), not a great athlete, and not a creator. He has given us nothing. Is it too much to ask to see if Alanzo Gee could get a few minutes to see how he would work out? There is absolutely no way he could be as bad as Simmons. in 16 minutes of play, he is 0-3 from behind the arc, no points, no free throw attempts, no rebounds, 2 assists and 2 fouls. What else do we need to see. I can put up that stat line.

    I guess what I am trying to say is I would rather take a chance with unproven talent and have the possibility of the unknown, as opposed to knowing that you will have SUCKITUDE…

    Yes, thats a word.

  • OneWing

    Possible additional correlation – Tony Parker seems to be generating more assists so far early in the season than he has in years past. Is there an analysis of assists/36mins with Jefferson on the court last season and compare that to assists with Jefferson on the court through three games? Additionally, perhaps a percentage of assists that RJ received from the team as a whole last season compared to these first three games.

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

    Scott, thanks for sharing your analysis.

    I would like to add that my opinion of RJ will not depend on whether he scores 13 PPG or 19 PPG. Stats aren’t the judge of RJ, it is the manner in which he earns those stats.

    Is he scoring in crucial situations?

    Is he playing confidently, keeping/generating the offensive flow? As all Spurs fans know, assists are not the best judge of performance, unless we count hockey assists.

    Is he creating his own offense or just living off the offense generated by someone else.

    Qualitative analysis in conjunction with his stat line is how RJ should be judged with the Spurs, imo.

  • grego

    @onewing. This is all based on observation, but….

    Spurs have more weapons, so Pop is probably forcing Parker to be more pass friendly. Obviously he’s the quarterback and gets to call his own plays these days, but Pop is usually the one still dictating the overall tempo.

    Also, Parker and TD have solidified a nice 2 man game which has contributed to more assists on a consistent basis.

  • rob

    Thanks for the analysis. I hope it rings true to fruition.

    Jefferson in my opinion was better than what he displayed last year. He’s always been a really good player and the only reason I could think of with him not performing better than he did last year was the new environment.

    Also him not maintaining the number 2 or at least 3rd option to scoring I’m sure had a significant role in his subpar season last year. Him taking advantage when he can is going to be the best advantage he can manifest in his second year with the team.

    As long as he can play solid…that’s all the team (or fans) should expect from Jefferson.

    So far so good.

  • Jim Henderson

    Scott’s analysis was limited to looking at ppg. It’s quite likely that RJ will score more this year. After all, he’s a career 17 ppg. scorer, and he’s not really in decline yet from aging or injury. He probably shouldn’t be at 17 ppg with a healthy TD. TP, & Manu.

    That said, I’m not really worried about RJ’s ppg. What I want to see is better consistency, efficiency, confidence, and effort/intensity. If he can improve in these areas his overall game will be transformed in the areas that we need to help the team (higher shooting %, rebounds, defense, dependability, clutch plays/performances).

    If he improves in these areas, his stats could very well be transformed from last years totals in the following key areas:

    ……………..PPG. ..APG. ..RPG. ..SPG. ..BPG. ..FG% …3-%

    2009-10 …12.3 ….2.0 …..4.4 ….. .6 ….. .5 …. .467 …. .316

    2010-11 ….15.2 ….2.6 …..5.0 ….. .8 ….. .6 …. .475 …. .360

    I would be very happy with that stat line, particularly if it reflects consistency at both ends of the court, and the ability to make key plays for the team when the situation call for it.

  • wannabe_fan

    Yeah, well, the Spurs had this happen more than once before. 2 examples I remember are Charles Smith and Antoine Carr. Along with RJ, before they came to the Spurs, they suffered from GSCT symdrome (good scorer, crappy team). Antoine never recovered his “elite” scoring touch, but he did help the team in other ways. Smith was kind of a bust, but to be fair he had knee problems that forced his retirement after 2 lackluster seasons with the Silver & Black.

    Let’s hope RJ fares better.

  • ITGuy

    What about life problems? Remember, when RJ came into town he was going through some serious issues in his personal life.
    I know he’s a professional player but these things affect us all in different ways.
    Here is hoping that he continues to play hard afterall, that’s all we can ask for.

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • badger

    Lenneezz’ opinion is spot on! RJ is an asset, and he needs to go out there and make other defenses pay if they don’t respect his skills. So far, I see a totally different RJ from last year, and I’m lovin’ what I’m seeing. Makes the opposing defense that much more frustrated! I also think Anderson is pleasantly surprising the Spurs FO with his instant contributions off the bench.

  • Tyler

    @OneWing

    I don’t think Pop is forcing Parker to play any sort of style. The up-tick in assists is mostly due to the increased pace the team is playing with right now. Faster pace = more shots and more assists.

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

    How about that RJ last night against the Suns! Man he blistered their ass! He was clutch in that corner ala Bruce although he could never touch him from a defensive standpoint…..although if he can be decent on D, he is astronomically athletic and that goes a long way. GO SPURS GO, WIN ONE FOR THE THUMB!!!!!