In defense of the defenseless

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.

(photos: daylife.com)

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