How Does He Fit? The Cleveland Cavaliers Sign Richard Jefferson


Ever since Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin stated his desire to add a backup small forward who could spell LeBron James, speculation among fans has been running rampant as to who that player might be. Many fans clamored for Dorell Wright, while Tayshaun Prince was linked to the Cavaliers early in free agency. Several sites, including this one, discussed players who could fill this role. The Cavaliers signed a player that they likely hope will fill this spot, as Richard Jefferson opted to join the Cleveland Cavaliers over a return to the Dallas Mavericks.

While at first this seems like simply signing another veteran at the end of his career, and while that may be proven true, Jefferson was pretty good last year. As his athleticism has waned, robbing him of some of his defensive abilities and explosiveness around the rim, Jefferson has improved his perimeter shooting to the point where he is one of the better three-point specialists around. Jefferson has shot over 40% from three in four of the last five seasons, including 42.6% last season. This includes a 42.9% mark on catch-and-shoot shot attempts, something that fits well with playing off of the Cavaliers’ big three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. They will get Jefferson good looks, and he will use those looks to space the floor for the stars.

Jefferson was also efficient in transition, where he shot 68%, in addition to shooting roughly 60% around the rim. In addition to this, he is still a solid rebounder who averaged 7.4 boards per 100 possessions last season, right at his career average. While his defense has slipped as his athleticism has declined, Jefferson wasn’t terrible at that end of the floor last season, and his defensive RPM of -0.16 ranked 29th out of 81 small forwards last season. Jefferson’s overall RPM of -0.61 was 33rd among small forwards last season, meaning he was one of the best backups in the league by this metric.

That’s not to say that there are no concerns here. Jefferson turned thirty-five last month, and is a senior citizen by NBA standards. While he was very good last season, it’s no guarantee that he will be able to maintain that level of play. Look no further than Mike Miller and Shawn Marion, who both were important parts of playoff teams two seasons ago before seemingly hitting the finish line upon joining the Cavaliers. Now, Marion is retired and Miller is unlikely to be part of the rotation. While Jefferson was better last season than Miller and Marion were in their final non-Cavalier years, there is cause for concern.

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In addition, while Jefferson had a solid RPM last year, his 2013-2014 mark of -3.07 was one of the worst in the league for his position. Finally, as an adequate defender going into his age 35 season, will Jefferson be able to keep up his play on that end enough for the Cavaliers to continue their improved defense? A roster with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Mo Williams, Mike Miller, James Jones, and J.R. Smith likely cannot afford another subpar defender.

Despite these issues, this looks like a solid move for the Cavaliers. Jefferson isn’t Dorell Wright (the popular choice), but he isn’t Tayshaun Prince (the seemingly inevitable disaster) either. Jefferson should at least be able to give an upgrade over what Marion and Jones did as the backup small forwards. He also gives the Cavaliers another option if/when J.R. Smith (if/when he re-signs) has another meltdown in a crucial situation. Given the limited role (backup to the best player in the game) and limited money (veteran’s minimum) the Cavaliers have to offer, Jefferson is a solid addition to the team.

What do you think of Richard Jefferson’s fit with the Cavs?

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