Dallas Mavericks fans weren't sure what they were getting when the team signed 13-year veteran Richard Jefferson this offseason, but they were hoping he'd be able to continue at the same level as he did the previous season. With the Utah Jazz, he averaged 10.1 points per game off of 45 percent shooting from the floor and 40 percent from 3-point range in 27 minutes per game. Jefferson started 78 games for Utah in 2013-14, the most since he was still with the San Antonio Spurs in 2010-11.
However, the logjam at guard, coupled with a solid start by Al-Farouq Aminu, meant that Jefferson saw sporadic action early on, and his game suffered. At the end of November, he was shooting around 33 percent from the floor, under 30 percent from deep and was only getting about 12 minutes per contest. Mavs fans lamented that this was the end for Jefferson, that he didn't have much left in the tank. Honestly, I was one of those people. I thought if Aminu could stay even just a serviceable offensive option, he would help relegate Jefferson to the end of the bench.
But then, two things happened. First, Aminu stopped scoring. It's not that he stopped shooting; it's just that his hot (for him) hand cooled off to Arctic levels, to the point that Carlisle couldn't justify putting him out on the court. Jefferson started getting his minutes, but wasn't taking advantage of the opportunity.
As we moved into December we saw this transition happening, but in his first few games ahead of Aminu in the rotation, Jefferson didn't take advantage. Three games into December, Jefferson averaged 19 minutes per game but shot just 4-of-13 from the floor. However, as he continued to get more minutes, he started finding his stroke -- just like he knew he could.
"Coach was very up front and honest with me early in the season that he wanted to see what the young guys could do and he didn't really have me in the rotation, and so it was just a matter of me being a professional and waiting for my opportunity," Jefferson said after the Mavs blowout win against the Wizards.
"It was always tough for me because I've never been in that type of situation, you might get six minutes in the first half with Monta and Devin and Dirk, and the next time you might get it with Brandan Wright and Jae, so there was never a groove you could kind of get into. Now I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable, feel like I could do it a little more consistently."
When the Mavs traded for Rajon Rondo, things really opened up for Jefferson. First, the logjam at guard was resolved, meaning that there would be fewer three guard lineups to take minutes. Aminu had been playing so poorly he was relegated to garbage time and now the Mavs had a point guard who knew how to space out shooters and create scoring chances for others.
Since the acquisition of Rondo, Jefferson's minutes have continued to increase, as has his efficiency. In the 10 games since the trade, Jefferson is averaging 20 minutes per game, shooting 55 percent from the floor and 57.8 percent from 3-point range.
Meanwhile, he's becoming a major contributor on defense. In the first four games in January, the Mavericks have a defensive rating on 94.9 when Jefferson is on the court. Compare that to Chandler Parsons, whose defensive rating over the same range is 99.7. He currently has a PIE1 (Player Impact Estimate) of 7.0, according to NBA.com (for comparison, Parsons' is 10.7, Monta's is 10.8).
At this point in the season, Jefferson is becoming a primary contributor off the bench, and his emergence helps replace some depth lost in the Rondo trade. His minutes aren't empty, either. He's playing efficient basketball on both ends of the court and looks like the player who had that surprisingly great year in Utah last season. As long as he continues to do so, the Mavs are in good shape when their second unit is on the court.