The three R’s for the San Antonio Spurs so far this season, they are: reading, ‘riting and Richard Jefferson. If his performance against the Phoenix Suns is any indication, then the Spurs will be taking teams to school.
It’s a big if; the real three R’s are reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. Adding up points by sinking three straight threes and four in the fourth, R.J. was hotter than a Sun Devil. To Arizona, where he played high school and college basketball, he went back home to rave reviews.
Jefferson, who is reportedly a Popovich favorite, had his University of Arizona jersey retired not too long ago. Some of his favorite school administrators and friends, including Luke Walton, were a part of the festivities.
The Spurs may retire Jefferson’s jersey if he plays like this for the length of his contract.
After four games, he averages 20.2 points, shoots 65 percent from the field and makes 53 percent of his three-pointers. Coming into this season, he was shooting 35 percent in threes over the last two seasons. A career 47 percent field goal shooter, this is one of the best stretches of his career.
Typical R.J. from last season: when confident, he is good; but when he is not feeling good about himself, he is atrocious.
In Phoenix, a confident-looking Jefferson was tossing up shots without thinking about it.
“He’s retooled his game,” Popovich said after the game. “He’s worked hard on his shot.”
Before seeing Pop’s quote, I’d made a few observations about Jefferson’s shot.
His elbow was in, his arm was extending and his fingers were fish hooking at the end of the release. The ball was rotating like it is supposed to, and it was high-arching. R.J. was looking like he’s studying Kobe Bryant’s shot.
Popovich hasn’t seen anything like it from a player, other than Ginobili, since Bruce Bowen retired. Is it coming too early in the season, though? Not for the Spurs, they want to keep pace with the mighty Lakers and the other “elite” teams.
Even the sternest Spurs fans were pleasantly surprised, seeing R.J. score 28 points, 18 in the fourth quarter, at Phoenix. The six-foot-seven forward’s play has been uneven, but he has been flashing signs of having a solid year.
Rising above players to dunk the basketball like he once did in New Jersey, his lift is impressive. Like NBA analyst Chris Webber likes to say about other players, this season, Jefferson has “hops not hopes.”
If he continues his hope-filled play, then the Spurs will be a better team than last year. I’m not blessing them as being a threat to the Lakers, but they are as good as Phoenix it seems. That’s a big step, remembering the Suns swept the Spurs out of the playoffs last season.
Never known as a great long range NBA jump shooter, R.J. was four-for-five in threes against the Suns. He kept getting lost in the man-to-man, and the Spurs backcourt kept finding him.
From the Bruce Bowen Amen corner, R.J. was blessing Popovich with the benefits of answered prayers.
Bruce is an analyst on ESPN and is known to sport bow ties at work — a fashion statement originated by Dwayne Wade a few All-Star weekends ago.
I still wouldn’t suggest Jefferson enter the three-point shooting contest.
I don’t believe he can shoot lights out night in, night out. If he does it against Houston, then he will be showing a bit more consistency.
Let’s keep this in perspective. When I say Jefferson is scoring like Gervin, whose jump shot was underrated, I’m speaking tongue-in-cheek.
He cannot, therefore, logically continue to score like the Iceman. On Wednesday, Tim Duncan surpassed Gervin on the Spurs all-time scoring list. Duncan has done it. Jefferson did it for one game against the Phoenix Suns, but he’s moving on up it seems.
Gervin was a much better scorer, of course. He is a Hall-of-Famer and one of the most prolific ballers in history. This is due, in large part, to his finger rolls from the foul line. Also six feet seven inches tall, that brilliant shot was like a free throw for him.
The three-point line was like the free-throw line for R.J. in Phoenix. I’m from the Show Me State. You have to show me your state of shooting is that good, R.J., over the course of a season.
If I’m the Spurs, I’m not relying on R.J. scoring from 23 feet, nine inches. It was a luxury with Bowen, but Jefferson, unless he has vastly improved, is not Bruce.
Jason Kidd’s jump shot improved the later he went in his career. The jumper is probably the easiest facet of the game that players can improve. For some players, like Ray Allen, it comes naturally, but R.J. is the type who needs to put in hours of practice.
By all reports, he did that in the summer, but who knew his shooting would be better than it has ever been? The Suns miss Amare Stoudamire and are not as good as last season, yet. The Spurs played outstanding ball down the stretch and won the game, 112-110.
For your performance on Wednesday night, R.J., I’ll give you an A+.
It was a pleasant surprise for Spurs fans, but I'd trust him more as a slasher and a pivotman before I’d trust his baseline threes.
Prediction: Richard Jefferson will not continue to shoot 53 percent in three-pointers.