There aren’t many out in the NBA world who might defend San Antonio Spurs forward Richard Jefferson.
He disappeared at the end of the regular season and then in the last half of the Spurs opening round loss to Memphis. The part that hurt most about Jefferson’s disappearing act at the end of the season was with the various injuries the Spurs were going through, it was RJ’s time to step up and he didn’t. That being said, it’s not time to give up on the Spurs lone legitimate small forward.
Here’s the point, the Spurs didn’t lose to Memphis because Jefferson disappeared - though it didn’t help - but because Memphis’ bigs roughed them up, Manu Ginobili had a broken arm and Mike Conley outplayed Tony Parker.
As Project Spurs' Jeff Garcia pointed out in March, the larger problem is Jefferson’s inconsistency. He started off the season on fire and then his points per game decreased every month except for the month of April when it jumped up an entire point from the month of March. The point is, you wouldn’t mind between 11 and 13 points a game for Jefferson is he averaged between 11 and 13 points a game every month.
11-13 points per game is middle of the road for a starting forward for an NBA team. The Spurs haven’t had 11-13 points per game from a small forward since Sean Elliott. My question is could fatigue have been a problem for RJ? The way he started out was reminiscent of his New Jersey days. He was aggressive, crashing the boards and getting to the free throw line. Then after two or three months, the number fell off. He’s the only Spurs wing taller than 6’5” that was getting regular minutes in the rotation. So he had to guard every other small forward in the league and take on the other team’s power forward when the Spurs go small. It’s not sustainable long term to be that productive on both ends of the court unless your name is LeBron James. Why do you think the Celtics traded one of their two defensive anchors to get a second small forward?
I don’t disagree with frustrated Spurs fans that RJ needs to be more aggressive on offense. If he attacks the basket ha almost always gets fouled. Along with getting a big to fill Antonio McDyess’ Hyperflights, getting a second wing player who didn’t play point guard in college, has to be a top priority for the Spurs this offseason. Making sure James Anderson is in shape and ready to contribute would be a good start.
I know Gary Neal was huge for the Spurs last year but let’s be honest, hasn’t he already hit his ceiling? And if I see him playing Small Forward one more time in a Spurs uniform I think my head might explode. Depending on what the new Collective Bargaining Agreement looks like, guys like Shane Battier and Andrei Kirilenko may not be available, but C.J. Miles, who averaged a healthy 12.8 points a game and player efficiency rating of 14.44. Mike Dunleavy, Jr. is out there too if you don’t mind him missing 25 games a season.
It’s OK to lambast Jefferson when he shoots twice a game, which happened more times then anyone would like to see towards the end of the season. He needs to be more aggressive, but let’s also remember that with the Spurs roster as currently constructed, losing Jefferson would leave the biggest hole in the Spurs lineup this side of Tim Duncan.
As far as the RJ discussion goes, I do think he is a decent starter but honestly would be better coming off the bench where he could be a higher offensive priority, which would hopefully in turn get him more involved defensively. In which case it would be better to have a good defensive minded SF to start out the game. Size with the current roster is definitely an issue, but most of the available SFs in free agency could help the Spurs overcome that problem. I think the issue with RJ is more the amount of money and the feeling that he is financially handicapping the team. You don't want an inconsistent role-player making only 2 million less than your All-Star caliber PG.
As for the biggest need this summer, it has to be the PF position. The days of "The Big Fundamental" outsmarting, overpowering, and destroying other PFs is sadly over. Luckily Duncan is still one of the better Cs in the league and has the range to play some PF offensively, but defensively his movement just won't allow him to cover the younger PFs anymore. On the other hand Splitter may have the speed to play the PF on the defensive end, offensively he has a range of 6 feet and demonstrated only a limited repertoire of post moves (though he was limited on PT and touches). Either way given Splitters size and offensive limitations he can also play the 5, which leaves the PF spot for Blair or Bonner, both limited defensively and offensively. Getting PF that can play some defense but has either a long-range or mid-range game is going to be essential.
RJ is still a good player - just not in the Spurs system.
The Spurs need to trade RJ while he still has a modicum of value. It would be worth it to get a lengthy small forward (6'8", longer wingspan) who's completely defensive minded - offensive production isn't really needed outside of filling the lane on a fast break. The defense brought will offset the lack of offense.
But, that means that the Spurs may have to give up something they really don't want to to get rid of RJ - perhaps Blair, Hill or even TP. Should they do all that? I say - YES. Here's why:
TD is getting $21 million next year and if he doesn't elect to opt out and sign for less per year but for longer years, then the Spurs are stuck w/ paying that much for past production. Either way, he's not getting younger and his replacement (on the defensive side of the ball) needs to be found ASAP for Timmy to train while he's still on the roster (who knows what he'll do once he's retired). Second, the spurs still want to remain competitive - that means they need an answer for Gasol, Zach Randolph, Adridge and Dirk. A big, long defender (C or PF) as well as a SF defender can be had for the price of one RJ if you don't care about their offensive production - just look at OKC, Wash and Utah. Third, that will allow the Spurs to return to their identity. The coaches will be happy, the fans will be comfortable and they will remain competitive.
I agree with soto1,
Having good outside shooters only takes you so far. If you can't defend the paint with quick defenders on the outside, and shot blockers and space eaters on the inside, then you can't compete with the teams that can have that kind of personnel.
In my opinion, Miami, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, OKC, Lakers, and Memphis all have rosters capable of playing this style of defense, some better than others. But right now the Spurs don't even belong in the conversation from a defensive personnel standpoint.
The only chance they have is to hit difficult, contested shots at a high percentage, which even with a health Manu, is not easy to do to put up enough points to win a 7 game series. The good defensive teams keep Parker and Manu out of the paint, help or match up well enough on Duncan inside, and are quick enough to close out on RJ and the other shooters. I think that's why Parker said he doesn't think they can compete for a championship. It's more than age. It's realizing that they don't have 3 bigs who can block and rebound with the best of them, or even a Bowen or D-Wade on the perimeter.
Forget wins and losses, from a defensive standpoint, the Spurs have hit a major low, and it shows in the playoffs. It did vs. Phoenix last year, and also vs. Memphis this year. If Manu was healthy, the defensive weakness would have shown vs. one of their next opponents. No way, could we have competed vs. Miami inside. But I still would have loved to watch and see how we'd fare on the perimeter. I'm one of the many Spurs fans who believes anything's possible with a healthy Manu.
I hope FO has learned their lesson. Small ball, doesn't work when teams have a LBJ, multiple bigs who can block shots and rebound, plus quick perimeter defenders. Dallas was smart by cutting Dampier and giving huge contracts for the younger Chandler and Haywood. I'm not saying that following a different strategy is impossible. But history shows it's unlikely to produce a title.
So I'm not going to rag on RJ, TP, or anyone individually. It's not their fault that the roster is made up the way it is. R.C. and company are the ones being that responsibility.
Trade, free agency, draft, player development: it will be interesting to see what happens in the off-season.
I don't think RJ is the problem it is true that he isn't a Bruce Bowen type of defender but the real issue is TEAM defense remember those championship years Bowen also had two seven foot guys behind him protecting the paint which allowed him to play aggressive defense if a player got bye Bowen they had two bigs to contend with or Bowen could force that player into those seven foot bigs. In RJ's defense i don't think the Spurs used his athletic ability correctly he is a slasher more of a 1 on 1 player put him in more isolation plays,post up,quick hitting plays to use that ability to the fullest you can't take a player like him and say your going to be a spot up corner 3point shooter RJ is more Sean Elliott than Bruce Bowen. Sean Elliott did everything well he was very solid on both sides of the ball RJ can be put in the same light i understand that he came the Spurs so he has to adjust to their systems but on the same token the Spurs should adjust to his ability as well.That's like taking Matt Bonner and making him play point guard..lol that's not what he is hes a shooter nothing else, RJ is more than just a shooter in my opinion maybe they should go after Tayshaun Prince or Wilson Chandler (who i would prefer ) think they are free agents or at least have a player option.But the reality is if they don't get 2-3 more bigs to control the paint offensively and defensively they will be in the same situation bigs and a solid wing defender and get back to playing that old style of Spurs basketball DEFENSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! first, shooting all those 3's is entertaining but it doesn't win championships.
Yea, I agree with you Trevor. Jefferson adds a dimension that can't be replicated defensively and that's height. With out Jefferson in there the team is undersized. Like it or not the Spurs need him.
Good question, Jake. Maybe on offense, but him, Parker & Hill wasn't Exactly stout on defense. Especially if Blair & Bonner were in there. I'm kind of interested to know what Neal's trade value is right about now.
I'd be interested in seeing if Gary Neal is more efficient at Small Forward then RJ. Any Sabremetricians out there know how it breaks down?
soto1ncrtol I agree that the Spurs need a Bruce Bowen level defender, but where will they find him? Battier is a possibility but who else is there? And I'm not sure how you get rid of Richard Jefferson. His play at the end of last season & his contract make him untradable. How about they get him some help so he plays 18-20 minutes a game instead of 30 mpg? But I'm with you in wanting to find Bruce Bowen 2.0. It's just hard to find.
Sorry Jeff i was just voicing my opinion i just feel we have lost a lot on the perimeter since Bruce left its time to find a guy not worried about scoring and just defending
Jeff i respectfully disagree with your assesment of RJ the problem is not only is he not a good but just barely average defender when he is not hitting 3's he is a liability on defense so what do you really have with him i would rather have a guy average 5 to 7 ppg but can defend like no body's buisness like we used to have with Bruce he never averaged 11 to 13 ppg but you knew he could shut somebody down on the perimeter that is what we have been lacking for the last couple of years its time to get back to hard nose defense look at the two teams in the finals right now they are thier because they can play defense. Matty bonner and RJ have to go and lets get back to the boring spurs of old that use to win championships
@soto1ncrtol Actually Trevor wrote this post. But I did warn Trevor that SAS fans will chime in and disagree with him. I think after 2 seasons RJ is not working out at all.