Following the trade of Richard Jefferson, many of us were saying that at the very least the transaction will go down as addition by subtraction. In other words, Jefferson had become such a liability that the Spurs will be a better team simply by removing him from the equation.
Do the statistics support that hypothesis? The obvious first step is to compare how the Spurs performed when Jefferson was on the court compared to when Jefferson was on the bench.
Defensively, the hypothesis appears to be wrong. When Jefferson was on the court, the Spurs allowed 103.22 points per 100 possessions. When Jefferson was on the bench, the Spurs allowed 104.67 points per 100 possessions. Thus, there is an expected increase of 1.45 points allowed per 100 possessions -- not exactly great news for an already shaky defensive squad.
However, the offense is an entirely different story. With Jefferson on the court, the Spurs scored 105.74 points per 100 possessions. With Jefferson riding the pine, the Spurs scored 112.64 points per 100 possessions -- or an improvement of 6.9 points scored per 100 possessions.
Why have the Spurs been so much better on offense without Jefferson? A lot of factors go into it. The most glaring difference is the fact that San Antonio has gone to the free throw line much more without Jefferson on the court. The overall percentage is basically the same but, per 48 minutes, free throws made (14.4 to 17.6) and attempted (19.8 to 24.3) go way up. Overall shooting percentage also rises without Jefferson, from 45.3% to 48.3%. And while three-point percentage drops a smidgen (from 40.3% to 39.1%), the decrease is somewhat negated by an increase in made three-point field goals (8.0 to 8.5).
Offensive rebounding percentage is also up without Jefferson, from 22.6% to 25.9%. However, not all the offensive news is good: Turnovers go up without Jefferson (12.8 to 13.8) and assists go down (22.7 to 21.5). That said, the aforementioned increase in overall offensive efficiency (+6.9 points per 100 possessions) should quell most fears. The stats paint a picture that shows, going forward, the Spurs will lose some precision and ball-movement but an increase in aggression will result in better quality of shots and more trips to the charity strip -- with the overall result being a much improved offensive attack.
Team-wide, we see the Spurs will get slightly worse on defense but a lot better on offense without Jefferson. To break it down even further, let's take a look at how his departure will effect each particular player. Of the three following charts, the first one shows how the Spurs performed offensively when the player was paired with Jefferson and and how he fared without Jefferson. The second chart concerns defense and the final chart is the sum of offense and defense.
Points Scored Per 100 Possessions - Team
Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions - Team
Point Differential Per 100 Possessions - Team
Offensively, the big winner of the Jefferson trade is Kawhi Leonard. He has massively struggled when paired with Jefferson this season. Without Jefferson, the rookie has actually been quite good. Two other players who shouldn't be upset with Jefferson leaving are Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner. The two bench bigs are fantastic without Jefferson. All in all, only DeJuan Blair doesn't see an improvement.
Defensively, the numbers aren't nearly as pretty on first glance. However, a few things worth noting: First of all, Tim Duncan has been really good on defense as long as Jefferson isn't on the court. Secondly, even the negative numbers in the Difference column are all rather negligible. Well, other than Blair, who sees a gargantuan drop without Jefferson around. To put it another way, the Spurs allow 115.32 points per 48 minutes when Blair plays without Jefferson also on the court.
(What is the logic behind Blair's struggles without Jefferson? That number is shockingly bad but I guess it just goes to show that Blair is useless on defense unless he's playing with the starting lineup. I assume the rest of the starting lineup has figured out how to play with Blair and that without that knowledge, Blair's weaknesses on defense are exposed.)
In the final chart, we see that a number of players can expect to see addition to their effectiveness by the subtraction of Jefferson. Youngsters Leonard, Danny Green and Gary Neal go from liability to asset. Duncan also appears headed for a large improvement.
To zoom in even closer, let's look at the scoring ability for each player with and without Jefferson.
The first chart shows how many points the player scores per 40 minutes with Jefferson on the court and how many points the player scores with Jefferson on the bench. The second chart shows the points per shot for each player with and without Jefferson (points per shot is simply points scored divided by field goal attempts).
Points Scored Per 40 Minutes - Individual
Points Per Shot - Individual
The first chart shows Parker's scoring goes from good to great. Green goes from below average to rather potent. Splitter becomes an elite scoring bigman without Jefferson.
In the second chart, the improvement that really stands out to me is Duncan's increase. Duncan scoring at a rate of 1.12 points per shot is honestly rather disappointing; the Spurs can't win in the playoffs with that number so low. However, without Jefferson, Duncan's number improves to 1.33 -- which is slightly higher than Duncan's career rate of 1.31. If the Jefferson trade allows Duncan to become a force on the offensive end, that alone will make the trade a beneficial one.
And while Ginobili is at the bottom of both charts, I wouldn't worry. Firstly, Ginobili was on fire to begin the season and he did a lot of his scoring with the a starting lineup that included Jefferson. Second of all, his points per shot number is still fantastic without Jefferson -- much higher than his career rate of 1.41.
The bottomline is, without even considering what Stephen Jackson will bring to the table, the Spurs should be a better team simply by trading away Richard Jefferson. The team-wide offensive improvement should be noticeable going forward and certain individuals, including Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan, should become much more effective players overall.