You gotta feel for Jared Jeffries. He didn’t sign up for this. One minute he’s waving towels, shouting encouragement, ambling around for the occasional flop or missed layup – you know, the reasons he’s hired – and the next he finds himself a focal point of a playoff offense trying to upset the best defensive team of the last five years. It’s just like Any Given Sunday, if Willie Beamon were uncoordinated, uncharismatic and had no sexual tension with Cameron Diaz.
Also unlike Willie Beamon, Jeffries failed comprehensively when the spotlight unexpectedly shone on him. It was sad to watch, in part because we all can relate to failure in a situation for which we’re completely unprepared – the feeling of wanting to protest the whole thing even as it’s happening, because how can I be judged for failing at something I haven’t been trained to do? Thing is, our failures usually don’t play out on national television.
Jared’s was a special kind of failure; for me, it called back every memory I ever had of how awful he is offensively, rolled them into a ball, and unleashed a maelstrom of suck that permeated my brain so thoroughly that I can’t possibly think of Jared without Game 3 surging back into my mind’s eye. Which is unfair, really, because what the hell were we expecting?
Jeffries’ season and career, as you probably know, is a study of how to keep steady employment in a basketball league when none of your skills involves the actual handling of a basketball. On defense he is annually among the per minute leaders in offensive fouls drawn; he is something approaching a master of anticipating contact and positioning himself with just the right timing to set his feet in his opponent’s path while not giving him enough time to adjust his path. He seeks out this contact and relishes it, and after all it’s probably what’s keeping him in the league. Yet put a ball in his hands and Jared Jeffries would prefer you touch him as little as possible. In 2009-10 he was one of just three frontcourt players to shoot below 50% on shots within the restricted area; the others were Yi Jianlian, another phenomenally soft big man, and Glen Davis, who is five inches shorter than either player and, besides, got 18% of his shots blocked that year. This season Yi and Davis improved their restricted area FG% to 60% and 59%, respectively – Jeffries’ actually declined, to an astonishing 47%.
Should I even bother telling you that Jeffries’ 2010-11 PER equaled the worst of his career? There isn’t anything statistics can tell us about him that we haven’t seen with our own eyes, twice as clearly. He’s a good defender whose one useful attribute – his length and “athleticism,” at least as it pertains to activities without the ball – figures to be on the way down as he turns 30 this November. And as noted above, he isn’t ever going to be worth much with the ball; in fact, this year Jeffries’ shooting took a nosedive to depths previously thought unreachable, 34% FG and 44% FT. He also mercifully stopped taking threes, which is good for the team, of course, but put all the tendencies together – the terrible and less frequent shooting, the declining athleticism – and it’s easy to see a man resigned to a fate of being out of the league sooner rather than later. Couple that with his spectacular playoff failure, and how much confidence can this guy possibly have left?
That’s silly amateur psychology, obviously, and if we’ve learned anything watching the NBA it’s that these guys didn’t get to where they are without reserves of confidence unbeknownst to the rest of us. I guess all I’m saying is I hope Jeffries’ career has one more chapter left (just not in New York). He was many things before he was the guy who blew Game 3: a guy who genuinely gave a crap on defense and made the team defense better, who was always good for a hilarious missed layup, who even seemed like a nice guy to boot. Jeffries wasn’t good, but he was good enough that he doesn’t deserve to be remembered the way I’m going to remember him.