Mysterious Offseason Workouts Pay Early Dividends for Richard Jefferson
After pouring in 18 fourth-quarter points to help bury the Suns in Phoenix 112-110 on Wednesday, when reporters swarmed his locker to hear all about it, Jefferson smiled, looked around and asked to be informed of Ginobili's whereabouts.
"Where's Manu at?" Jefferson asked. "Every time I hit like two threes in a game and people ask me about that, Manu starts laughing."
If Jefferson's performance against the Suns was any indication, there may be a plenty of laughs in store for Ginobili this season.
Jefferson drilled four three-pointers from basically the exact same spot in the fourth, with three coming on consecutive possessions in a blistering 45-second span that saw the Spurs go from trailing by one to leading by six.
He worked all summer long on his game, specifically for moments like this one. But while Jefferson and his coach Gregg Popovich mentioned the offseason workouts as the likely reason for such a breakout performance early in the season, neither would go into any of the specifics.
"We worked him all summer long on basic fundamentals," Popovich said. "Just to get some rust off of him and get him back to the solid habits he used when he was at Arizona (in college). He's done a great job, and shown a lot of character doing some really ridiculous drills to get back to that fundamental position and balance, making quick decisions, worked on his shot. He's done a wonderful job."
When asked to give specific examples of some of these so-called "ridiculous" drills, Popovich ... well, let's just say he politely declined.
"None of your business," he said.
Top Secret stuff, then?
"We didn't invent the light bulb or anything," Popovich said with a bit of a smile. "Just go watch a junior high practice, and you'll see the things that we did."
"They were not fun," Jefferson said of the drills. And just like his tight-lipped head coach, Jefferson didn't want to say exactly what was involved, either.
"I'd rather not give away any secrets, let's put it that way."
Fine. But at least Jefferson was willing to open up a bit about the reasons behind his willingness to head back into the gym and put so much work into changing his game, despite the fact that before he got to San Antonio, he was largely a proven commodity -- a veteran player, now in his 10th season, with a career average of 20 points per game in the league.
"Before in my career, playing with (Jason Kidd), then being a 20-point per game scorer, the situation was different," Jefferson said. "Now coming here, the offense is different, so you have to learn how to be aggressive in this offense. And that's something that last year was tough, especially learning all the defensive schemes -- you know, Pop is more focused on the defense. This year, I have a better understanding of the plays; the defensive assignments of where I'm supposed to be."
It's apparently pretty tough to get ingrained into the Popovich system in San Antonio, especially for tenured players not used to so much focus on the defensive end of the floor. So much so, that Jefferson's teammates tried to console him by telling him things would get better -- but not until his second season with the Spurs.
"The situation is just different here," Jefferson said. "Everybody talks about it, and I've said it before. Everybody was telling me it's better the second year, but they were telling me that in January of last year, and it's like, well, that's a long time to wait until the second season."
The wait may have been a long one, but it's likely to be well worth it for the Spurs. But Jefferson isn't expecting any slack from his coach for his early success. In fact, he expects the opposite.
"He's probably going to be even harder on me now," Jefferson said after his performance in Phoenix. "Because he's going to expect more things and more consistent things."