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Richard Jefferson's season shows why it's hard to be LeBron's backup

Richard Jefferson has been a pleasant surprise for Cavaliers fans in the 2015-16 season. What's he doing well, what does he need to improve on, and how hard is it to be LeBron James' backup?

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers are in a bit of a malaise right now, having lost three straight, and nobody seems to be playing particularly well. The injuries the team has sustained are beginning to expose a few cracks, and the depth of the team is really being tested.

Richard Jefferson is one of those reserves being pressed into action, and he has certainly passed the eye test as a reserve thus far. He's shot the ball pretty well, finished exceptionally well at the rim, and done a serviceable job on defense. With that in mind, I was surprised while reading William Bohl's excellent Synergy breakdown that Jefferson had a negative net rating on the season. The Miami game certainly didn't help, but he's down to a -5.1 net rating individually.

What's the cause? Well, Jefferson is suffering from the downside of being LeBron James' backup. The team is rarely as good without him on the floor.

Richard Jefferson Splits

He's played 247 of his 470 minutes with James sitting on the bench, and the Cavs are just getting rocked during those minutes. They have a net rating of -15.8 points per 100 possessions with Jefferson on the floor and James on the bench. This isn't surprising, and, if Jefferson played a different position, I'm sure the numbers would look more favorably for him.

This also could be improved pretty quickly upon the return of Kyrie Irving to the lineup. Lineups without LeBron are a little too reliant on Mo Williams for shot creation, which has had an effect of forcing Jefferson to take on a larger offensive burden. He's shot the ball 30 more times with LeBron on the bench than with him on the floor, which, at this point in his career, should not be Jefferson's game.

One concern is that Jefferson in a bit of a shooting slump. Through the first ten games of the season, Jefferson was launching 3.4 threes per game and hitting them at a 44.1 percent rate. In the last 10 games, he's down to 13 percent. You'd expect these numbers to land somewhere in the middle, and in fairness, those numbers are marred by an 0-7 effort from distance against the Heat with LeBron resting.

The malaise has carried over to his free throw shooting this season, along with the rest of the Cavaliers. He's just 19-34 on the season from the line, and while it's not a huge deal since he never really gets there anyway, it's yet another Cavalier that can't seem to get his free throw stroke down.

Fortunately for Jefferson, despite a shaky jump shot as of late, he's been absolutely dynamite in the paint all season. He's finishing at a 73.7 percent clip within five feet of the rim this season, and a 88.2 percent mark while sharing the floor with LeBron.

I was about to call it DeAndre Jordan-esque, but the Clippers star is finishing at only 67 percent on such shots, so what I'm saying is that Richard Jefferson is a better finisher than DeAndre Jordan (Another note: I'm not saying that.)

Jefferson, on balance, has been a boon for the Cavaliers. I don't think anyone would have predicted his ability to finish at the rim would still be this good, and his jump shot certainly should return to a reasonable form, if not the lights-out 44 percent he was at earlier in the year. He can fit into any lineup with offensive creators on the floor, and should remain a strong contributor that keeps it hard for David Blatt to leave him out of the rotation, even when the team gets healthy.