One of the emerging themes this NBA season has been the redemption of players who disappointed in their first season with their new teams, but are making up for it with their meaningful contributions this time around. Richard Jefferson highlights this group of veterans with his dynamite play for the San Antonio Spurs, as we'll soon explore.
All statistics are current through Tuesday night's games.
Richard Jefferson, SF, San Antonio Spurs
Acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks for three expiring contracts prior to last season, Jefferson struggled in his first campaign under Gregg Popovich, scoring just 12.3 points per game, his worst average since his rookie season and 10.3 points lower than what he posted in 2007/08 as a go-to guy for the New Jersey Nets. Perhaps those struggles are just what he needed, though, as he's become a tighter fit with the 17-3 Spurs now. He ranks third on the team in scoring, pouring in 14.8 per game on 48.7 percent shooting from the floor and 43.4 percent from beyond the arc, second only to Matt Bonner (50 percent) among the Spurs' rotation players.
In a lot of ways, he's a much more offensively inclined version of Bruce Bowen, who made a name for himself locking down opponents' top wing scorers for eight seasons in San Antonio while nailing the occasional corner three-pointer. That comparison was never more apt than on Nov. 3, when Jefferson hit four three-pointers from the left corner on his way to scoring a season-high 28 points in a victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Additionally, the Spurs have cranked up the tempo this year for the first time in Popovich's tenure, looking to run more, which makes better use of Jefferson's athletic gifts. According to the play-tracking service Synergy Sports Technology, transition offense accounted for 18.8 percent of Jefferson's possessions, up from 12.6 percent last season.
After Vince Carter, Bass was meant to be the Magic's second-most important addition last summer after signing for a bargain-basement price of four years and $16 million. Instead, he wasn't even Orlando's best power-forward newcomer, as second-year floor-spacer Ryan Anderson enjoyed far more success. Bass tallied 31 Did Not Play, Coach's Decisions in his first season in Magic pinstripes, due to uninspiring turns defensively and on the glass. A source told Orlando Pinstriped Post last year that Bass struggled to learn the playbook as well. But now? It suffices to say that Orlando wouldn't be where it is without his across-the-board contributions.
Bass has appeared in all 21 of Orlando's games so far this season and has posted career-bests in minutes (21.7), scoring (10.1), rebounding (5.1), assists (1) and field-goal shooting (52.3 percent). This year, he's corrected the shortcomings which kept him on the bench while scoring more efficiently than ever. Though his jump-shooting is bound to return to Earth at some point, there's no reason why he can't continue to bully his way into the paint for dunks or to draw fouls.
In his fourth year at Orlando's helm, coach Stan Van Gundy's shifted starting power forward Rashard Lewis, the team's highest-paid player, to small forward for long stretches in order to accommodate Bass. The move makes sense, as Orlando's a combined 9.1 points per 100 possessions better with Bass on the court as opposed to off it, according to BasketballValue.com.
Boston acquired Robinson at last season's trading deadline to add a versatile scoring threat to their bench, but Robinson responded by turning into a three-point gunner, as treys accounted for 55 percent of his shot attempts in his first half-season in Beantown. While still shooting threes at a high rate, Robinson has nonetheless become a more complete and important player for the Celtics, scoring 7.7 points in just 16.1 minutes per game and converting 46.5 percent of his shot attempts.
He's also made better use of his varied skills, averaging a respectable 5.5 assists per game starting for Rajon Rondo at point guard as Rondo deals with a strained hamstring. True, Rondo himself averages 14.1 dimes with the same crew, but the fact that Robinson's managed to tailor his game to whatever coach Doc Rivers requires on any given night really ought to give Celtics fans confidence in him going forward. That's a huge point: Robinson's talents are obvious, but he's earned a reputation through the years as a bit of a knucklehead. It's entirely possible, however, that Robinson's toned down the clowning for good.
The three previous players on this list make most of their contributions at the offensive end, so it's time enough we recognize Okafor, who rates among the league's best defensive pivots. New Orleans may have cooled significantly after a strong start, but don't blame Okafor, whose shot-blocking presence in the paint area deters would-be drivers. The Hornets boast the league's sixth-best defense on a pace-adjusted basis, up from 21st a year ago, in Okafor's first season in the Crescent City. Then, Hornets opponents averaged a whopping 28.4 shot attempts at the rim per game, and converted 64.9 percent of them. This season, those figures have improved to 20.4 and 62.7 percent, respectively.
Not coincidentally, Okafor's playing more minutes (31) and blocking more shots (2) this season as opposed to last. And while it'd be fallacious to attribute all of New Orleans' strides squarely to their defensive-oriented center, we should at least acknowledge his steps forward on that end as a big part of them.
And it's not as if Okafor can't score; it's simply not his job. But he manages 10.1 points on 54.6 percent shooting anyway despite hardly having any plays called for him.
Acquired from the Golden State Warriors for the NBA equivalent of peanuts early last season, Jackson was meant to add a scoring punch to the anemic Bobcats offense, which he did: Jackson posted 21.1 points in 72 games for Charlotte, but shot only 42.3 percent from the floor. This season, Jackson's scoring less (18.7 per game), but doing so slightly more efficiently. His raw field-goal percentage is just three-tenths of one point higher, but he's also shooting 41.3 percent from three-point range -- on 6.1 attempts! -- and 91.4 percent from the foul line. His rebounding, on a per-minute basis, is slightly down, but his assists have improved. In short, Jackson has played a more efficient, more well-rounded game.
The offseason departures of Raymond Felton (via free agency) and Tyson Chandler (via trade) have Charlotte floundering a bit at 8-13, but the offense hasn't lost a step, scoring 104.4 points per 100 possessions for the second consecutive year despite replacing Felton with D.J. Augustin at the point. Jackson's play is a large mitigating factor. The Bobcats can place the blame for their decline on several factors -- as Rufus on Fire explains, Augustin's become a bit of a scapegoat -- but Jackson isn't one of them.