Big Fourth?

RJ has disappointed me this season. I had such high hopes for him, that I still couldn't believe he's not lifting us to the upper echelon of NBA teams. The problem is, I don't really know why he's been disappointing me. People say he plays decent defense. People say he's been doing enough on offense. But somehow, I'm not convinced. And I don't know why. So like any irrational hatah, I made up a reason to dislike him.

For his career, RJ is putting up 17.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.9 apg, and 0.9 spg. Currently for the Spurs, his numbers are 13.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, and 0.8 spg. Everything's down this year. I understand how these numbers would naturally be below his averages considering that he's not the first, second, or (at times) even third option on the Spurs. Add that to the fact that he's playing 3.5 minutes less than he normally does, and it's more than completely understandable. There are other scorers on the team, so he can't pad his point totals. There's Tim and Dice and Blair (and Bonner?) to contend with for rebounds. Since the offense doesn't normally run through him, he can't assist as much either (although he didn't pass too much before either). Plus he might be only the third best defender on the team too, so it's okay for his steals to go down (albeit by 0.1 spg). I don't really fault him for any of that.

Sorry, RJ. This will hurt too.

What might be causing my RJ-semi-hate, is his lack of aggressiveness in driving to the basket. At least that's what I observed. Of course, I watch games at 10 frames per minute, so I might be missing a thing or twenty, so I decided to investigate (i.e., "find and/or fabricate reasons why I'm right"). Apparently, this year, Jefferson averages only 4.3 free throw attempts per game. That's way down from his average of 6.1. The only time in his career that he attempted fewer free throws per game was in his rookie year. Sure it can be attributed to his lack of touches, but that isn't the case here. I looked at the ratio of his FTA to his FGA, and for his career, RJ averages 0.47 free throw attempts per shot. For the Spurs, his FTA:FGA ratio is down to 41% (0.413)--the lowest it has ever been. As a rookie, Jefferson took only 3.4 free throws per game, but attempted a mere 7.5 FGAs. That was when he couldn't draw too many fouls because he didn't have the ball too often. But this season, clearly--even relative to his touches--Princess Peanut just hasn't been taking the ball to the basket like he used to do.

Let's put it out there that RJ has been getting 10.4 FGA per game--2.5 attempts below his average. But those 10.4 times per game that the ball ends up in his hands, what does he do with those? Does he take them to the hoop and draw fouls? Or does he shoot jumpers, shying away from contact? I couldn't find a comprehensive Richard Jefferson shot chart (except for this, earlier in the season), so I couldn't say for sure. ( seems to say that 65% of his attempts are jumpshots; I don't quite understand all the stats there). What I'm sure of though is that if only RJ drew fouls at his regular rate of 0.473 FTA/FGA, he would end up with 4.92 free throw attempts per game.

Not RJ's shot chart. But kinda looks like it. Maybe.

Another falling Dick J stat that has nothing to do with the amount of time the ball is in his hands is his FT%. RJ is a career 77.8% FT shooter. For the Spurs he makes only 67% of his freebies. If RJ indeed raises his FTA to 4.92 (instead of the current 4.3), AND if he makes 77.8% of those (instead of the current 67%), he will increase his scoring to a grand total of...14.23 ppg.

Okay, it's not much of a difference. But if the flaps of a butterfly's wings in the Amazon truly has an effect in the presence of hurricanes in the Pacific, then that 0.93 point addition that RJ will have brought will surely form ripples in the Spurs pond. Maybe that foul he draws causes an opposing big to be stuck in the bench. Maybe that FT he hits makes it a tied game instead of a 1-point deficit. I don't really know. But that's the point. No one will know unless RJ makes these little improvements.

This can cause a tsunami. Fear the flaps.

For a veteran professional basketball player like Richard Jefferson, it shouldn't be too hard to draw fouls as often as he always used to do. It shouldn't be too hard to make free throws at the percentage that he always used to shoot at.

In the end, I'm not sure if making those adjustments will leave me impressed. Anyway, RJ isn't paid $14M to please me. But neither is he paid, like I said in the comments section of another post, "more than DeJuan Blair, Keith Bogans, Matt Bonner, Michael Finley, Malik Hairston, George Hill, Roger Mason, and Theo Ratliff--COMBINED" to simply be mediocre. He needs to have an SRS rating of more than -0.9 (lower than Blair, Finley, Hill, Bonner and the Big Three). Per 36 minutes, even Hill and Blair outscore him (also, per 36 mins, Bogans and Bonner outrebound him).

The bottom line is this: if you're the second-highest paid player on the team, you can't have the eighth best PER. RJ isn't our leading scorer, rebounder, or passer. He doesn't get the most steals or blocks. He doesn't lead the team in FG%, 3P%, or FT%. He doesn't lead the team in FGMs and FGAs, nor in FTMs and FTAs. In fact, I can't find any single meaningful stat that Jefferson leads the team in. None. Not one.

But I exaggerate: there are in fact some categories where he leads the Spurs. Three, to be exact. Games played, games started, and minutes per game.

So basically, despite not really earning it, RJ's still getting the most playing time. Pop's playing him just because. Great. Just great.

We might as well trade him for a defensive specialist and some big bodies.

Oh well. I want to know if there are other Spurs fans like me who are disappointed with RJ. Cast your votes now.

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