Jeff Ayres is a Spur after all

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

This entire team is fantastic. Tim Duncan's continued excellence is unbelievable. Tony Parker is leading the team. Kawhi Leonard's impact is growing as the season progresses. Boris Diaw continues to surprise. Manu is still the most exciting player and Belinelli has been a gift from the heavens. But Jeff Ayres has slowly become my favorite player on the Spurs to watch.

Jeff Ayres had a very poor start to the season with his new team, the San Antonio Spurs. He looked generally lost on both ends of the floor, couldn't catch the ball and even when he did he missed more than he made under the basket. In addition, he can't make an outside jumper. Given his Indiana Pacer pedigree, he fell well short of the expectations that Spurs fans had of him. However, his recent play has turned me. I think that's why I like rooting for him. It's a comeback story, and I like comeback stories. He dashed my hopes in November but now surprises me nearly every game. Count me in on the Jeff Ayres' bandwagon.

First, all of the numbers that I share with you will be his per 36 minutes averages, from nba.com. Given his fluctuating and mostly limited minutes, I think it's the fairest way to look at his production.

Ayres_points

Just from watching Jeff since Tiago succumbed to injury, I thought Ayres had dramatically improved on the offensive end of the floor and the numbers back it up. In January, he's converting at a much higher clip than he had been. The reason for this is that his shot selection has improved. He's not trying to shoot those 15-footers anymore. Instead, he constantly probes the defense looking for an open spot under the basket and when he finds one, he goes for the dunk.

In addition, he's not fumbling the ball as often as he did at the beginning of the season. A lot of people like to say that the Spurs' system is difficult to learn and use it as an excuse when new players under-perform. I do not think that's entirely accurate. For a guy like Jeff, what takes time is learning when to expect the ball. The Pacers don't have the creativity that the Spurs do. George Hill is a great point guard and Paul George is an MVP candidate, but they do not attempt the same passes as the Spurs.

Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw will absolutely surprise you with the ball. Manu sees passing angles that I can't find even when I replay the possession in super-slow motion. If that ball is coming at you in real-time, and you've never played with someone capable of making that play, good luck catching it. Over the two and a half months that Ayres has played with the Spurs, I think his biggest improvement is that he now expects the ball at the right time. Because of this, he's finally catching passes instead of ruining everyone's assist totals.

I think his new-found ability to catch passes has increased his confidence level. We aren't the only ones who noticed he consistently fumbled the ball. He knew it too and I'm sure he was preoccupied with it while on the floor. Now that he understands when to be ready, which is all the time, he's been able to focus on other aspects of his game.

Ayres_rebounds

Since he's been given more playing time, Ayres has been a monster on the boards. He's averaging 4.2 offensive rebounds and 9.1 defensive rebounds this month per 36 minutes. I love the offensive rebounds. It's been a statistic that the Spurs generally concede, because they value getting back in transition defense more than going for the board. But Ayres is generally already near the basket and goes for every offensive rebound. He's long, quick and athletic. His possession-saving rebounds are very helpful. The Spurs are so efficient on the offensive end that given a second opportunity they usually convert.

In addition, Ayres is playing much better defense in January than he did in November and Pop is trusting him more and more because of it. His positioning has improved and his help defense is also trending well. He has long arms that give him the capability of bothering or blocking shots.

These improved stats all point towards one critical attribute: hustle. He hustles non-stop. And it's like Bonner hustling, when Ayres hustles he gets to the ball or hits someone. Ayres doesn't do anything at half-speed. He's going 100% for the offensive board or he's going 100% for a powerful dunk. He's not tiptoeing around out there hoping to avoid contact. He's looking for contact. I like the physical edge that he gives the Spurs.

Potential

Jeff Ayres is 6'9" but has a 7'1" wingspan and a 8'11" standing reach. Ayres has a 35" vertical and is deceptively quick. I recently heard on a telecast that he is as fast as most NBA point guards when at full sprint. Athletically, Ayres clearly has the potential to make a dent in this league. While his height is a little disappointing, his speed, agility and jumping ability make up for it.

Ayres_2013_this_one

Yes, I agree that it is wholeheartedly discouraging, but he is making 67% of his shots this month so there is improvement. I think in order to truly help the Spurs, and to solidify his playing time,  he needs to make the open ten to 15-footer, and he has shown to be incapable of that this season. However...

Ayres_2012_this_one

This is Ayres' shot chart from last season. Personally, I was shocked. Obviously, his shooting touch hasn't been there this season, but apparently he's capable of making the shot. If Ayres can improve from where he was last season, which I don't think is too much to ask from someone that gets paid to put a basketball through the hoop, he's in. I think Jeff Ayres will eventually become the Spurs' fourth big and may even move up the depth chart if the match-ups are favorable.

Basically, I think there's a lot to like with Ayres. He hustles, he hits hard, he's shown dramatic improvement in just two months and he has the athletic frame to be a good player for the Spurs. In addition, he's not Matt Bonner.

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