Boom Goes the Dynamite
I was going to focus my recap of last night’s game against the Magic on Richard Jefferson’s spectacular 3rd quarter, and how he displayed the tools and promise the team had long sought from him yet had only intermittently seen. The positive person that I am, I was going to opine that if we saw much more of this RJ, the team would become much more deadly and fans would learn to embrace him.
Irony is nothing without a good sense of timing.
In many ways, last night’s game was a microcosm of Jefferson’s tenure with the Spurs. Sometimes bad, at other times dazzling, but mostly forgettable. He never became what we wanted: a 4th scoring option with great athleticism who could score in transition, play good defense, and find his spot in the offense. He turned himself into a good to great 3-point shooter and found a niche in the offense there…but we already have that role filled ably by many other players. Players who also contribute more. Each of his last two seasons started out with much more promise, only to fall back to forgettable by mid-season. He was never what the team wanted, yet probably never quite as bad as many thought. But one thing is clear: he never fit in fully with the team or the scheme, and he was never a “Spur”, whatever that means in some esoteric, noble sense that we like to apply to team sports.
In many ways, the departure of Jefferson is addition by subtraction, regardless of the piece coming back (more on that in a moment). It was becoming increasingly clear that Jefferson was no longer the best small forward on the team, and that his playing time would need to be severely limited. With his increasing scoring prowess (getting almost all of his points on his own, outside of the framework of the offense, on hustle alone), superior defense, rebounding, and intangibles, Kawhi Leonard had clearly become our best option at the 3. With Jefferson gone, hopefully the space has cleared up a bit for him.
As for Stephen Jackson…I think he’ll fit in very well back in San Antonio. All Spurs fans remember his contributions to the 2003 title. All NBA fans remember his role in the “Malice at the Palace”, or his strip club shooting, or his constant complaining and apparent team-killing. He is seemingly the antithesis of a Spurs player. But, almost to a man, everybody who plays with Jackson raves about him as a teammate. The Spurs don’t lack for strong leadership and a power structure. Jackson has no way of getting out of line on this team. And if he does, he simply won’t play any more. Simple as that. But at his best, he is a fierce competitor, and he truly wants to win. In a winning environment with a disciplined culture, the best of him can surely shine.
Numbers might show that his production is down from Jefferson’s. And he is older. But he’ll be asked to do much less than he has in recent years. He’ll become a role player again, not a leading man. His competitiveness will be rewarded. He’ll win. And most importantly, numbers aside: with the game on the line, in the closing minutes, did you ever want to see Jefferson on the floor? I sure didn’t. Would you want to see Jackson? Yeah, I think I would.
And I have a hunch so would Duncan. And Ginobili. And Parker. And Pop. And that means a lot more than what I think, or what the numbers say.
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