The Nets, healthy for the first month of the season, faced a few injuries over the past several days -along with adversity over the past week. Brook Lopez sat four games over the past week with a strained back. Mirza Teletovic missed two games with a hip pointer, and Kevin Garnett sat out Saturday to rest.
So, with three of the team's top six options out at points during the past four games, Lionel Hollins has called on the bench to give him and the team a burst of energy and provide the mostly young reserves some consistent minutes. Cory Jefferson, for one, has done all he can to shake off the "Mr. Irrelevant" label, given the 60th and final pick in the draft, and become a rotation player in Brooklyn.
Jefferson, over the past four, is averaging more than six points and four rebounds on 52% shooting in about 18 and a half minutes per game. When his totals are averaged out over 36 minutes, Jefferson is at 13 points, nine rebounds and nearly two blocks. Hollins seems to see Jefferson as a small forward rather than a power forward, and Jefferson has played some there, but he is a tweener right now ... and that word no longer carries the bad rap it once did. Either way, Jefferson has done a fine job of keeping the floor spaced, playing within his limitations, and hitting his shots.
The No.60 pick in the Draft this past June has an emerging three-point shot, but that is still a work in progress. He is 0-of-5 from beyond the arc this season. However, he has been solid in the middle of the court. He takes most of his shots from the mid-range area (15), and is shooting essentially the league average from the area, knocking down 40% of his attempts. Even though Jefferson is in a phase where he's stuck about what position plays at the NBA level, just the fact that he isn't a liability in spacing makes him a viable option.
In addition to showing he can hit a 15 footer, Jefferson has shown a fine back-to-the-basket game, and a soft touch around the rim.
Jefferson is an athlete, and that's why he's been able to make a positive contribution in spot minutes this season. He has a wingspan of 7'1", and a max vertical of 37.5", a mark one inch better than Mason Plumlee's at the Draft Combine. Jefferson is also a high motor player, something that the rest of the team's frontcourt reserves have in common. The Baylor forward has an plus-minus net per 100 possessions of +25.5 this season, per Basketball Reference. That's a fantastic mark for any player,
So what will happen when the Nets are back at full strength? CJ will still garner a few minutes, obviously fewer, but he's proven he can play on this team. Jefferson plays well in the Nets offense, knows where he needs to be on the floor and stays out of the key players' way when they want to take their man one-on-one. We're talking mainly Joe Johnson.
Jefferson, with more minutes this week, has succeeded most when he plays with the starters. Per NBA.com, when both Jefferson and Deron Williams are on the floor together, about 50 minutes so far. the Nets are +37, the second highest net rating on the team. Of all the bigs on the team, Jefferson has shared the most minutes with Plumlee. The two have played together for 53 minutes, a short time, but during those minutes, the Nets have been +23, and the team' offense has been efficient. The two keep the floor very spaced, Plumlee manning the paint, Jefferson staying elbow extended. Brooklyn has shot 50% from three during that time, and their rebound percentage has been more than eight percent better. The two-man combo grabs 57% of the total rebounds available; the team as a whole 49%.
When Lopez returns, along with Teletovic and Garnett, Jefferson will have to take a backseat to the latter two, but the emergence of CJ could give Garnett more rest during the course of the game and could make it easier for Hollins to get some strength in the frontcourt by putting the rookie at small forward.
Moreover, Jefferson has moved on from that embarrassing three-point "shot" Wednesday in Chicago to put together two and a half nice games of basketball since along with a possible spot in the Nets' rotation. He's proven at the very least that he's reliable.
The injuries that plagued the Nets over the past seven days may pay off in the long run when the team needs to turn to its bench. Players such as Jefferson, Sergey Karasev, and even now Brandon Davies, have benefited from getting significant time. At what point does it pay off?