KnickerBlogger: Normally when you begin to work at a new company, you want to start off well. Usually you’ll have a fresh haircut & choose something nicer from your wardrobe. You’ll act a little more polite and reserved than you would normally be. And you’ll do a lot of unnecessary smiling. That’s because first impressions are crucial in forging long lasting relationships. Give people the wrong impression off the bat, and you’re not likely to ever win them over. So a little note to Jared Jeffries: don’t expect to run for mayor of New York City anytime soon.
The Knicks signed Jeffries to a 5 year mid-level exception deal last summer, and it seemed to be a decent idea. It was no secret that the New York roster leaned heavily towards offense, and so getting a defensive minded player should have tipped the balance in the other direction. Jeffries started off the 2007 season on the injured list with a fractured wrist, and missed the first month and a half. When the swingman returned, he seemed uncomfortable on the court with his new teammates. Although he recorded his first double digit scoring output in his second game of the season, he would go another 18 games before repeating that feat. In fact Jeffries went the last 2 months of the season without scoring 10 or more points in a game, despite having logged 30 or more minutes in 11 of those games.
As far as I can tell Jeffries only has one method of scoring, a low post move where he uses his 6-11 height advantage on a baby hook shot. Sadly he doesn’t shoot well from outside, and doesn’t finish well around the basket. Give Jeffries the ball under the hoop with no defender in sight and he may not make the shot. Not since Charles Smith have I had so much anxiety watching someone attempt a layup. He does rebound well on the offensive end (3.4 OREB/40), but oddly enough that skill doesn’t translate on the defensive end (3.9 DREB/40).
Since New York basketball history is steeped in strong defensive teams, Knick fans are usually astute enough to overlook a player’s offensive deficiencies if they make up for it on the other end of the court. To the eye, Jeffries is not a lock down defender like Bruce Bowen, Ron Artest, or Raja Bell. Nor does he have superior shot blocking ability like Andrei Kirilenko or Josh Smith. He has a reputation as a solid but unspectacular defender. Unfortunately the statistics don’t back it up. 82games shows the Knicks to have been 3.1 points worse per 100 possessions on defense with Jeffries on the floor. When he’s on the floor, the opposing SF’s PER is an astounding 20.1. That is he makes Luke Walton look like Josh Howard. New York finished 24th in team defensive efficiency, up from 26th the year before, so obviously Jeffries didn’t make much of an impact.
KnickerBlogger’s Grade: F
2007-08 Outlook: New Yorkers can hope for 2 things next year with regards to Jared Jeffries. First is that Jeffries ups his game on both ends of the court. I’m at a loss in exactly what areas he could improve. I suppose being able to hit a layup and bringing more intensity on defense would be easy areas, but is this really attainable? Jeffries could benefit from becoming an unforgiving meaner player (Bruce Bowen), without being crazy (Ron Artest). But is it really likely for a player (or a human) to go through such a psychological change? Maybe a full preseason with the team will allow him to settle in more, but probably not enough to make a major difference.
The other thing that Knick fans can hope for is that Jeffries & Balkman switch minutes. Last year Jeffries averaged 24 minutes, while Balkman averaged only 16. Balkman is nearly a superior player in every aspect, save for the one post up move. So it would make sense for Renaldo to be ahead in the depth chart at small forward. Balkman had a fabulous summer league, some would say better than league MVP & teammate Nate Robinson, so it’s entirely possible that Renaldo could enter 2007 as the starting SF for the Knicks. Hopefully Isiah the coach won’t try to help Isiah the GM by trying to make Jeffries appealing to other teams by playing him more often than Balkman.
Brian Maniscalco: Unfortunately, I don’t think there is much reason to expect better things from Jeffries. Most of his per minute numbers in his first Knick season were on a par with what he did in Washington– shooting, rebounding, assisting, stealing, blocking. Only a couple of things changed appreciably, and on these stats we might expect Jeffries to return to previous levels. So look for his FT% to increase from his Chris Dudley-esque 46% in 07 to something closer to 60%, which is more at his career average. There is also some hope that his turnover rate might drop a bit. In his prior 3 seasons in Washington he averaged 14.2 turnovers per 100 possessions, but as a Knick that number ballooned up to 16.8, which is approaching Eddy Curry territory. The only thing keeping the rise in turnovers per possesion showing up in Jeffries’ turnovers per minute was, mercifully, a drop in usage rate. Nonetheless, for a player who brings nothing to the table offensively, it’s inexcusable to be turning it over on such a high fraction of his touches.
It’s also somewhat curious that Jeffries did not have a good defensive +/- since his numbers were consistently solid in Washington. Over the last 3 seasons the Wizards were 4.6, 4.4, and 4.0 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Jeffries. So why the sudden dip in his defensive +/- as a Knick? Given the consistency of his box score stats across both teams, I’m more inclined to believe that the change in defensive +/- is due to the change in context rather than a change in Jeffries’ qualities as an individual defender. For instance, it’s possible that playing with a strong interior defender like Brendan Haywood rather than a weak one like Eddy Curry helped out his defensive +/-. It’s also possible that the players logging SF minutes while Jeffries sat on the bench (principally Richardson and Balkman) were just much better defenders than the subs Jeffries had on Washington. Indeed, the Knicks were 9.2 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Balkman on the floor (which is comparable to Bowen’s defensive +/- for the Spurs in 07), which could have driven down Jeffries’ defensive +/- if he didn’t play a lot of minutes with Balkman. So it’s really hard to say if Jeffries was as ineffectual on D for the Knicks as his +/- makes him look.
But the bottom line is that Jeffries does not bring a whole lot to the table, and the negatives far outweigh the positives. The numbers suggest that Jeffries has been a good, solid defender but they are not consistent with him being a great defender. Unfortunately, no team has the luxury of giving a solid defender a prominent role when that player hurts them on offense as much as Jeffries does. Even a defensive juggernaut like Bruce Bowen chips in by keeping his turnovers low and providing a 3 point threat. Jeffries does rebound well offensively, but that’s it. He can’t shoot well from anywhere on the court, including the free throw line, and he commits turnovers at an absurdly high rate for a player whom no one– neither his teammates nor opposing defenses– considers an offensive threat. Every minute Jeffries spends on the floor in place of Balkman is a minute where the Knicks are shooting themselves in the foot. I give Jeffries’ 2006/07 effort a D because of his lapse in FT% and turnover rate relative to prior seasons. But the acquisition of Jeffries for the full MLE deserves an F-.