I definitely wouldn't call myself a Spurs fan. But if you know anything about basketball, you've got to respect the hell out of their "big three" and their ability to thrive off of each of each other. You've also got to respect Gregg Popovich's undisputed genius coaching antics.
The Spurs are always the team (with exception of Denver the last couple of years) that I feel would knock the Lakers out of the playoffs if they'd meet. In fact, I remember hearing Phil Jackson quote last year when asked if he was worried about anything going into the playoffs, and he responded with, "We just don't want to have to play to Spurs."
Last year was not a good year for the Spurs. Parker, Duncan, and Ginobli were all hit with antagonizing minor injuries that do well at hindering play, while their new pickup Jefferson who was a beast in New Jersey and Milwaukee, was struggling to fit into the system and rotation of the Spurs. The chemistry was just off.
The Spurs are known for their veteran chemistry, and with so many minor injuries and new players into the mix, it was obviously hard to get any kind of rhythm flowing in the game.
Fast-forward an early playoff exit, a full summer camp, a preseason and eight games later. The Spurs are looking like they (much like the Celtics) are extremely tired of hearing the same old story from their critics, but more importantly, Richard Jefferson is silencing everyone that has said his pickup was a bust.
I've always liked RJ. I've always thought his shot is silky smooth, and although he's not the greatest defender in the world, he certainly isn't close to being terrible. Last year his stats dropped from 19 PPG to a disappointing 12.3 PPG. He was being benched day in and day out, and there was public knowledge that he was struggling tremendously to fit into Pop's system with Duncan, Parker, and Manu.
This year, the Spurs have started off 7-1, losing only to the undefeated New Orleans Hornets, and RJ has increased his points per game by five-plus points to get him back up to 17.5. This about where I saw him scoring when coming to San Antonio, because he's never quite had a trio of scorers that he has there.
While his rebounds have dropped slightly, he has improved in steals, assists, and less turnovers a game. In the first eight games, RJ has scored only single digits one time, and has a season high of 28 points.
But this isn't about stats. There are plenty of players out there that have improved themselves personally in a year. This is about what RJ is bringing to the table for San Antonio. He is giving them a reliable scorer that can not only defend well, but spreads the defense everywhere and opens up shots anyone on the Spurs that can shoot (which is pretty much everyone).
Jefferson can not only score the ball from anywhere on the court outside, but he puts his defenders to the test with his fantastic driving ability.
Granted it's early in the season, but Jefferson seems to have helped get San Antonio back into that chemistry groove they've been missing for a couple seasons. As of now, RJ gets my vote for being the most improved player, in the fact that his improvement has helped turn the Spurs turn back into a team I would worry about if I were a Laker fan.