There were questions about how Richard Jefferson would fit into the Spurs offense when they traded for him over the summer. He started his career with the New Jersey Nets as a third option who made his name with his slashing ability. In more recent years he found himself carrying his team's scoring load and he began taking more threes, especially last year in Milwaukee. Well, the Spurs are eight games into their season and the questions are still around.
Jefferson is averaging 15.6 points on 49.4% shooting, numbers most Spurs fans would be happy with, but it is his inconsistency causes worry. Jefferson has had games where he shot 1-of-7 and then games when he shot 7-of-8. He has shot as few as four shots and as many as 23 shots. It's obvious that his role in the offense is still undefined and that he, and the rest of the Spurs, are not sure how to use his talents.
He has looked most comfortable when both Tony Parker and Tim Duncan missed games due to ankle injuries and Jefferson was called on along with Manu Ginobili to become a scorer. Without Parker and Duncan he averaged 26.5 points compared to 12 points with them.
One of the biggest problems is his lack of aggressiveness with Parker and Duncan on the court. Also, his shot selection has been suspect with playing with the two All-Stars. I wanted to take a closer look at shot selection issue, which in turn gives us an idea about his aggressiveness on the offensive end. To do so I looked at the shot charts from the eight games that the Spurs have played in, separating his stats for the six games with Parker and Duncan and the two without them.
I broke the court into four areas as follows:
- Close: 0-5 feet from the basket
- Intermediate: 6-15 feet from the basket
- Long: 16 feet from the basket to three point line
- Threes: Behind three point line
I decided to chart the number of shots he made and missed, the field goal percentage, the expected points and the percentage of his total shots from each area. I expected that I would find a greater percentage of his shots from the close area in those games without Parker or Duncan because he was a more assertive player in those games.
|% of Total Shots||42.7%||16.85%||14.61%||25.84%|
With Parker and Duncan
|% of Total Shots||40%||16%||14%||30%|
Without Parker and Duncan
|% of Total Shots||46.15%||17.95%||15.38%||20.51%|
As you can see, with Parker and Duncan, Jefferson takes 40% of his shots from the close area but this number moves to 46.15% without them. Also, his threes drop from 30% of his shots to 20.51%. These were the two numbers that jumped out at me the most because they are most indicative of how he approaches the game with and without Parker and Duncan. Jefferson has been two different players this season, playing as a spot up shooter when Parker and Duncan are around and attacking the basket hard as a main option when they sit the bench.
Obviously this is too small of a sample size to draw any hard conclusions, but it does solidify my notion that Jefferson is too passive in the current Spurs offense. To further my point we can take a look at Jefferson's free throw attempts as well. With Parker and Duncan he is averaging 0.1676 free throw attempts per minute and without them he is averaging 0.2195. Free throw attempts are generally considered a sign of aggressive offensive play, something the Spurs typically lack. Jefferson is simply more assertive without Parker and Duncan around.
While it is nice to know that the numbers back up my suspicions, this all leads to the obvious question of what do the Spurs do to correct this problem? A few different individuals are responsible for correcting this.
First, Jefferson needs to realize that he is most effective when he attacks the basket and looks for his own shots as well. I know that he want to fit in with the Spurs system and not rock the boat but his passiveness is making him less effective. Instead of settling for threes he has to put the ball on the court and look for layups and close shots. In time his three point shooting stroke will return and then he can play more spot up.
Second, Parker needs to adjust to Jefferson's game. The Spurs have never had a player quite like Jefferson. Instead they have signed spot up shooters like Michael Finley, Roger Mason, Brent Barry and Matt Bonner. Truthfully this fits Parker's game better because he can find the spot up shooters when defenses collapse on his drives. However, Parker is the point guard and it is his duty to find out what Jefferson needs to succeed. Right now Parker's shoot-first point guard mentality has slowed Jefferson's progress down.
Third, Coach Pop needs to continue tinkering with the lineup and the offensive plays. Jefferson is not a player who can fill up a box score without any plays called for him, so Pop should call more isolation players for Jefferson to take his man one-on-one. Also, try to find ways to put him in motion instead of just spotting up around the perimeter.
I have faith that eventually Jefferson and the Spurs will figure out how to use him in the best way possible. It's obvious that he is not comfortable right now with the current situation.
Please leave us your thoughts and comments on Jefferson and the Spurs.