When Richard Jefferson signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer, there were some mixed feelings among the fan base. On paper, the 35-year old looked like he could help; he was coming off a pretty productive season with the Dallas Mavericks, and with his size and solid three-point shooting, it was reasonable to think he’d be able to provide some quality minutes off the bench. However, we’d thought the same about Shawn Marion and Mike Miller in the summer of 2014, and both of those players worked out pretty poorly. That’s the risk of leaning on players in their mid-to-late 30s.
Jefferson assuaged those concerns better than anyone could have expected. He played 74 games, averaging 5.5 points and 1.7 rebounds per game off the bench, and he shot a solid 38.2 percent from the field. Simply by being healthy for a full season, he eclipsed the bar set by Miller and Marion.
However, he did so much more once the playoffs rolled around. Jefferson played in every playoff game for the Cavs, and posted similar numbers to his regular season output: 5.4 points per game, 3.5 rebounds per game, and 39.3 percent from three. He also had a few big moments for the team. He hit two threes in the Game 2 win over Atlanta. He helped the Cavs rally in Game 5 against Toronto, posting 11 points and six rebounds. And he was also a big player in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, scoring nine points and grabbing eight rebounds in the blowout win.
All the while, Jefferson was Cavs fans’ looking glass into the dynamics of the locker room. His embracing of Snapchat around mid-season provided fans with a view into the daily nonsense and camaraderie of the team, and did a lot to dispel a lot of the rumors of uneasiness we saw constantly throughout the last two seasons. From Lil’ Kev to the championship puzzle, Jefferson not only showed his ability to bring the locker room together, but helped to create the picture of unity that the team rallied around in the Playoffs.
Headed into the 2016-17 season, Jefferson probably isn't going to be better than he was last year. Generally, players who retire immediately after a season, only to come back later, are thinking about retiring for a reason. At 36 years old, Jefferson probably doesn't have many seasons of being a rotation-level forward, if he has any at all. That might have been the impetus behind trading for Mike Dunleavy Jr., as the Cavs may have been hedging against a potential Jefferson slide.
Jefferson should still be a solid three-point shooter. He’s now hit over 38 percent from three in six of his last eight seasons, and his release and ability to create open space for himself off the ball will help him continue to be a threat. He also should continue to be a solid rebounder, given his frame. Jefferson’s rebounding numbers slipped last year, from an 8.1 percent total rebound rate to just 5.5 percent. However, that could have been a change in role more than anything, as he was asked to crash the boards less playing next to LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson. He posted the second highest total rebound rate of his playoff career in the postseason, so this probably won't be an area where Jefferson struggles.
Defense is where Jefferson will most likely slip. He was very good in the regular season and playoffs at taking minutes defending threes and smaller fours, and that took a large load off of James in the minutes the two shared. However, if Jefferson’s legs start to go, this is probably where his game will suffer most, as he’s already more reliant on his strength than lateral quickness defensively. The good news is that Dunleavy is a very good defender, and Jefferson shouldn’t have to have a big responsibility on this end of the floor.
Jefferson was a fantastic addition last season, and he’s a very underrated reason that the Cavs won the title. He’s back this season in what should be a reduced role, and that will be good for him as he probably will slip a little bit due to age. With Dunleavy around, Jefferson can slide into a role similar to the one James Jones occupied in 2014-2015, and provide an effective 10-12 minutes a night instead of 17-19. And if Dunleavy gets injured again, we know what Jefferson is potentially capable of.
Jefferson's leadership and charisma were a big part of his presence as well, and we know those aren't going anywhere. It's because of those qualities, more so than on-court play, that Jefferson ranks this high.
Sixth place votes: 3
Seventh place votes: 1
Eighth place votes: 3
Ninth place votes: 6