Jefferson's return to form a pleasant surprise for Spurs
By Pat DeCola
"Richard Jefferson, we hardly knew ye."
That's the headline I thought that I'd be running with a few weeks into the season, right around the time I predicted I'd be issuing the eulogy at the funeral of Jefferson's NBA career.
Well, low and behold, it's still the one I went with.
And not because the 6'7" forward took note of the "staggering downswing in production" rumblings throughout the course of last season and retired at the age of 30, but because we literally did not know ye, Rich.
Or more specifically, we didn't know you had it in you.
After mind-blowingly opting out of his $15.2 million contract in June, Spurs fans may have though they'd seen the last of Jefferson, who notched just 12.3 points in 31.1 frustrating minutes per game last year. But he managed to re-sign with the team in July, at what he considers his own type of self-negotiated contract extension.
"So you figure it out. If you're able to get four years and 40 (million dollars by opting out) from someone (which ended up being the Spurs), it's like, 'OK, I did lose out on 15 (million dollars). But I'm going to get basically a $25 million extension,'" as he told Fanhouse before opting out.
Well, he ended up getting near his $40 million mark by signing for $39 million over four years, giving San Antonio one hella-good (so far) player for a measly $8.4 million.
His contract steadily increases throughout the course of the deal, bringing him to over $11 million in year four, in which a 34-year old Jefferson will likely be driving to the rim in a Cadillac with a perpetual left-turn signal on for 18 minutes a game. But this is not the time, nor place to discuss that dismal imagery.
Rather, it's to offer Jefferson some praise.
As the transition of the organization continues and 34-year old Tim Duncan's minutes and points diminish, the need for added production from other contributors grows consistently. Manu Ginobili has benefitted from his added minutes by shooting lights out and scoring over 21 per. Even Tony Parker has been as hot as his wife ex-wife, Eva Longoria, shooting close to 53% from the field and 81% from the line. (Parker has career averages of 49 and 73%, respectively.)
But the biggest surprise of this young season for San Antonio is undoubtedly the motivated production from Jefferson.
In roughly the same amount of playing time as last year, certain aspects of his 2010-2011 numbers are staggering. Jefferson is shooting at a 54% clip combined with 46% behind the arc. Compare that with 47% and 32% a year ago and the Spurs are in business.
His rebounds and assists are slightly down, but the adjustments to his overall game have given San Antonio a versatile scorer at the perfect time.
Jefferson has even elevated his play to the point where I've confidently added him to my fantasy basketball team, "Pimping Gloria James".
Basically what all of this boils down to is this: the majority of the NBA world believed that the productive days of the former Arizona Wildcat were far behind him. So much so, in fact, that basketballreference.com didn't even bother to update his stock photo from his time in New Jersey, despite last appearing in a Nets uni in April 2008 and changing teams twice since then.
87% of the season remains to be played, and by then this column might look ridiculous.
But right now it's time to buy into Richard Jefferson and the 10-1 Spurs, if you haven't already.