Jefferson was discarded from San Antonio and left for dead with Golden State. What caused his career revitalization in Utah last season?
Amar (@AllThatAmar): Tyrone Corbin. No other coach would have leaned on Jefferson like Ty did. Corbin has a bias for veteran players who are entering journeyman status as that is what he was for most of his playing career; even more so for small forwards who are ‘pushed out' because of "young hotshots" taking their jobs. (Direct quote, look it up.) It's the same reason why people like Josh Howard, Raja Bell, Marvin Williams, Randy Foye and countless other veterans in contract years got playing time over rookie deal players Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks over the last four seasons.
Dennis Lindsey, the General Manager of the Jazz, built the 2013-14 team with the purpose of losing games. Lindsey also did not bring in any older vets of overt talent or usefulness in order to stem the on-going, systematic cannibalization the limited development opportunities for the younger guys he drafted. Still, Corbin went out there and started John Lucas III for a few games, and guys like Marvin and Richard started almost every single game they were healthy for. Corbin's entire deal last season was to win games, which is the opposite of what the GM wanted. Thankfully, either Corbin was incapable of reaching his goal, or the GM had Ty-proofed the roster enough to the point that 25 wins was the maximum they could have achieved.
To his credit, Jefferson is a consummate professional, supported the head coach publicly, and his starting spot was never in question. The 34 year old played nearly 30 mpg last season, and did the most he could with the opportunities he was given. Does that mean he was the same guy all along, and the Spurs and Warriors gave up on him too soon? I think not. He's an old vet who is very smart. Don't bite the hand that feeds you, and have a great season in a contract year. He did both of those things last season. It was the perfect storm because Corbin was the right coach for him because he was probably the only coach that would have even played him last year over the other wing prospects on the Jazz.
RJ did what he had to do to stay in the league, and he had a bounce back season last year that wouldn't have been possible if he went to any other team.
His 3-point shot has fluctuated a little throughout his career, falling to 31 percent a couple years (2009-10, 2012-13). Did you see any reason to think he can't repeat his 40 percent shooting from last season?
Amar: I do not, unless he is asked to take threes that aren't the types of threes he is good at. He was by far one of the most dangerous players on the team last year in transition or coming off of screens because of his smart three point shooting ability. Sure, he "only" shot 39.6 percent from deep on Spot up attempts (not a bad number when he's taking about 250 spot ups a year), but in transition and off of screens he was even better. Off screens he shot 50 percent, and in transition he trailed plays, got super open, and drained 52.4 percent of his threes.
He is only going to remain more open in Dallas than he was in Utah, because Dallas has actual star players who are good and willing passers. On a tangent, this is why I feel like the way RJ was used last year on a lotto team was so infuriating -- but on a vet laden contender, he is the right fit. He's not a starting caliber player anymore (many metrics point out that he was among the worst starter in the NBA last year). But his talents, when used correctly, allow him to really help a team win games. His smart shot selection and three point proficiency will be an asset this year - unless it was all just a contract year up-tic in concentration and performance. I honestly do not think that is the case though, RJ was one of the most professional, and consistent players I've ever had to cover.
How will he fit into a smaller shooter role in Dallas, after starting basically every game in Utah?
Amar: RJ isn't a streak shooter. Sure, his percentages go up and down from season to season; but for the most part he is who he is at this stage. And this includes being in larger sample sizes or smaller ones. He did play nearly 30 mpg last year, and started all but the last four games of the season. However, he knows the score. He has played for New Jersey, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Golden State and Utah over his career. He's now with his sixth team, Dallas, over a very long, 13 year career. What hurt him in San Antonio was that he campaigned for a larger role, and did not like the fact that a "young hotshot" (to use the Tyrone Corbin term) in Kawhi Leonard was eating into his minutes and role. RJ isn't going to make the same mistake by trying to stage a clubhouse coup - he doesn't want to get exiled again. As much as I like him, Jae Crowder isn't Kawhi Leonard. RJ getting minutes over him isn't going to be a problem. (If he plays over Ricky Ledo I will be upset, though.) And RJ being a bench player at this stage of his career will not be one either.
After watching him all of last season, what's something about him that might surprise us?
Amar: Richard Jefferson still has hops. And it is surprising. It has been a surprise. And even after half the season was over, I was still surprised by it. He led the team in dunks last season - a team with a bunch of lotto picks and a former Slam Dunk Champ. RJ goes hard to the rim still - some of his missed dunks were better dunks than the ones that went in for other players. He's a smart player, and one of my favorite plays this season was him missing a three, following his shot, and then hammering it down on a defender.
But, yeah, he is going to miss some dunks this year. He was never a Vince Carter replacement, not when they were young and teammates, and not now.