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In one of the more marquee moves of the off-season, the San Antonio Spurs traded a few of their lesser used players (read: Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto) to the Milwaukee Bucks for small forward Richard Jefferson.
At the time, it looked like a steal of a deal. Jefferson was a dynamic scorer for Milwaukee that could bring San Antonio a nice boost of athleticism in the starting line-up.
But, after some thought, I started to doubt that Jefferson would be a great fit with the Spurs. When you look at their roster, they have three primary options: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. None of those guys are catch and shoot threats. Duncan normally catches high post, holds the ball, and decides between a jumper off the glass or a drive. Only 31% of Parker’s points are scored off the assist, meaning he gets most of his shots off his own dribble. And Manu has the ability to catch and shoot but has shied away from those shots in favor of the drive often.
Those concerns led me to believe that adding a guy who didn’t shoot particularly well from three and compiled a lot of points on a Bucks team that he was the number one option on was not as perfect as it seemed at first. Because, sometimes adding a player that had a 20 point average on one team with teammates that always deferred to him doesn’t mean those 20 points will transfer over to a team that already has three players scoring at that rate.
Such is the case with the Spurs. Jefferson has not jelled in with the offense at all, his defensive effort isn’t where it should be for a coach like Gregg Popovich, and his numbers are, not so surprisingly, down from his years as the top player on the Bucks.
On the year, Richard is averaging just 12 points a game (compared to 20 ppg last season) and his shooting percentages aren’t good (48/36/67). Those numbers aren’t terrible, but with the way the Spurs have played as a team this entire season, I feel like the production from Jefferson as a swingman needs to improve for the Spurs to accomplish their goal of succeeding in the playoffs.
That being said, maybe Jefferson isn’t the best option for the Spurs as a swingman. Is it possible that back-up guard George Hill is the better player in this San Antionio system? I think that he is.
Jefferson has played 62% of San Antonio’s minutes this season and has an offensive rating of 1.10, meaning the Spurs average 1.1 points per possession when Richardson is on the court. In 52% of the Spur’s minutes, Hill has put up an offensive rating of 1.12 despite playing most of his minutes with the second unit.
Let’s take a look at their respective shot charts to see who the better shooter is.
In less playing time, Hill has actually gotten to the rim almost as many times as Jefferson, finishing at a high percentage. From mid-range, or 16-23 feet, Hill and Jefferson are shooting at the same clip of 44%, but Hill has mastered both corner three’s and has only made two less triples on the season than Jefferson.
Hill is a better creator, in my opinion, with good handles and the ability to control an offense from the point guard position. With Hill on the court, the Spurs can play Tony Parker off the ball, or they can spot Hill in the corner and allow him the space to shoot the ball off a Tony Parker drive-and-kick, a shot perfected by Bruce Bowen during his time in San Antonio. Statistically speaking, those three’s are more likely to fall with taking them than Jefferson, which is dictated by those charts alone.
Though Hill has not started as many games as Jefferson by any stretch, George has put up better numbers than Jefferson in his 10 starts. Hill averaged 33 minutes a game in those starts, scoring 16 points a game on 47% shooting. Hill also has a higher PER (“The player efficiency rating is a rating of a player’s per-minute productivity.”) than Jefferson with a 13.98 PER compared to RJ’s 12.93 figure.
And perhaps the biggest asset that Hill has is his suffocating defensive work. Because Jefferson is long, tall, and athletic, his acquisition was as much of a defensive one as an offensive one in the eyes of many. However, Hill has become one of the best perimeter defenders in basketball, showing the ability to stick with quick guards like Aaron Brooks and Chris Paul by moving his feet and bother bigger players like Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade thanks to his length. Popovich says that Hill is his favorite player on the team. The reason he gave was because he still laughed at his jokes while veterans like Timmy-D and Manu have stopped caring because they have heard them so many times, but I am willing to bet money his defense has just as much to do with that.
Though a few inches shorter, Hill reminds me of Thabo Sefolosha. He irritates his man defensively to the point where, even if his man makes a shot, you know that he played the best defense possible just like Thabo. Offensively, Sefolosha has been pretty good from the corner with the three ball, which is much like Hill, though George has much more to offer offensively than that.
At the position he plays most, point guard, Hill has a 4.o PER advantage over his opponent per-48 minutes, forcing his man into four turnovers and holding them to 42% effective field goal percentage. Jefferson, on the other hand, has just a .7 PER advantage against small forwards, allowing 18 points per-48 minutes (compared to 19 for himself) on 49% effective field goal percentage.
With the recent trade rumors involving Jefferson and Manu Ginobili’s names, I think it would be a smart move for the Spurs to part ways with Jefferson. Though his time in San Antonio has been short lived, I feel that the addition of a guy like Amare Stoudemire, who the player rumored to come to the Spurs in return for RJ, would be a huge upgrade for the Spurs because I think Hill can compensate for the loss of Jefferson.
Even if the Spurs don’t end of trading Jefferson, Hill should get more playing time. Hill has been more effective and efficient offensively and has been tremendous on the defensive end. Getting him minutes now will allow for him to continue to grow in the Spurs system and, should he turn into a player that can take over for Tony Parker, give the Spurs at least two key pieces to build around for the future (DeJuan Blair being the other).