Today, we take a look at Small Forwards and how they did last year. Going into last season, this was a position that caused much angst in Spursdom. Richard Jefferson was scheduled to be the starter, and with his contract, there was little hope that anything could be done to improve the Spurs at the 3 spot. Little did we know that a draft day trade that brought us Kawhi Leonard would have Spurs fans everywhere excited as school girls at a Justin Bieber concert in just a few short months! As if that weren't enough, the Spurs somehow convinced Golden State to take RJ for Stephen Jackson and save the Spurs over $10 million. In less than a season, the Spurs have gone from Small Forward being a position of weakness to one that might be set for years to come.
Join us as we grade out San Antonio's Small Forwards.
Big50: Rage started the season off ok, but it was clear he wasn't even up to early 2010-2011 standards. Jefferson was of course still hitting a solid percentage of his 3-pointers, but he wasn't really doing anything else. If you look at his per game averages and then look at his per 36 minute numbers, they look pretty much the same. Jefferson had become a high-priced Matt Bonner who couldn't rebound. I'm probably being too hard on him, but needless to say, I was glad to see him go when the Spurs traded him. I do want to give Jefferson credit. He was a professional. He improved his shooting while in San Antonio and tried to make things work. You could see that it was painful for him that things weren't working out. I wish him luck in his future endeavors.
Regular Season Grade: C-
SfS: For all the negatives (or really, just a lack of positives would be more accurate) that Jefferson brought to the table, the one area he excelled at was 4th quarter three-point shooting. He led the league in that stat during his time as a Spur. And his shooting percentages went up on the road. Unfortunately, aside from shooting, he was resoundingly average.
Regular Season: C+ (78)
Big50: The man, the myth, the legend. Look, I barely follow college basketball. When March Madness rolls around, I pay a lot of attention, and then promptly stop once my bracket is blown to hell. So, needless to say that when I heard the Spurs had traded George Hill to the Pacers for this Kawhi Leonard guy, I thought for sure we just drafted a foreign player again. As I read more about him, I liked him, but wasn't sure he was worth the Hill price.
At the start of the season, Kawhi was backing up Jefferson and didn't see a ton of time, but if you paid attention you could see he was a long player and he sure did look good in garbage time. Once Leonard got more PT, he began to shine. His shot, which was supposed to be his weakness, looked pretty solid, and the numbers backed that up, with Kawhi shooting over 37% on the year from beyond the arc. He had an Offensive Rating of 119, which was good enough for 7th in the NBA, and he had the 3rd highest Win Shares on the Spurs, behind Parker and Duncan.
Regular Season Grade: A
The playoffs is when Leonard really set himself apart. He played solid defense and only had a slight drop in his shooting percentages. Leonard was 4th on the team in scoring in the playoffs, and he was 2nd on the team in Defensive Rating. You could see that the moment was not too big for Leonard. He performed way above expectations and did a fine job of guarding Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and the like. The Spurs have a very solid player on their hands.
Playoff Grade: A+
SfS: Perhaps the one thing Richard Jefferson should get credit for is working with Kawhi during the lockout. Then again, that might be one of the reasons Pop said Kawhi had no clue what was going on and that he basically just had to stand him in the corner. Coming out of college, shooting was supposed to be his weakness, but Kawhi fixed that. He is everything we thought we were going to get from Richard Jefferson, and then some. He's a solid defender, a good scorer, and can handle the ball. He was, in my opinion, the third best Spur for large parts of the season (mostly LWM time).
Regular Season: A+ (99)
Playoffs: Solid in the first two rounds, close to spectacular against OKC. He performed better than anyone on the Spurs not named Stephen Jackson in the WCF. It was clear he had improved a lot towards the end of the season and going into the playoffs. Let's hope he continues that going forward.
Big50: The man who "makes love to pressure" played in 21 games for the Spurs in the regular season. He didn't set the world on fire, averaging just under 9 ppg and shooting 30% from downtown, but his defensive work rate was there. He had the 2nd best Defensive Rating on the team, behind Tim Duncan. Really, the regular season was just a warm up for Jackson, who hadn't played a lot all year after being tossed in the dog house in Milwaukee. Jackson was brought in for the playoffs, we all knew that.
Regular Season Grade: C+
The playoffs came and Jackson produced. He shot 60% from downtown in the playoffs and 53% from the field. Problem was he didn't shoot enough, only averaging a little over 8 ppg. Jack did a fine job playing defense, and the WCF saw he and Leonard on the floor trying to slow down the Thunder's offense; it didn't work out too well. I thought Jackson deferred too much in the playoffs. Those times when he just started to take over came too late, both in the game and the series. When playing against a team like OKC, Capt. Jack will need to force the opposing team to play defense on him. Jackson will need to read the game better and if his offense is needed, beyond hitting the open 3, then he'll need to do work.
Playoff Grade: B+
SfS: Stephen Jackson, the player, came back to the Spurs and there were several (myself included) who were skeptical about how he fit on the team. We didn't want him to start and take minutes away from Kawhi. We weren't sure if his shooting would be able to adequately replace Richard Jefferson. Turns out that he knew. He knew it was his time to be Danny Ferry and Steve Kerr. We knew he needed to play defense, and we knew that he would compete. And that's what he did. His shooting was better than expected, his defense was outstanding, and you could tell he took an active role in trying to coach up Kawhi, Danny Green, and even DeJuan Blair. He was constantly in someone's ear or cheering from the bench. Duncan wasn't lying when he called him the ultimate teammate. He fit his role, and the team, perfectly.
Regular Season: B (83)
In the playoffs, he stepped up his game. His shooting percentages went up, his intensity went up, and he pretty well showed he was the perfect fit. In my mind, even if you throw out the ridiculous shooting of the last game of the WCF, he was the best Spur in that series. His defense on Durant was otstanding. If the other role players had turned in half his performance on both ends of the court, we would have won in 4.
Playoffs: A+ (100)