After hitting a homerun on draft night, Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey couldn’t wait to test his newly acquired loyalty by taking on two of the most bloated contracts in the league.
For the princely sum of first-round picks in 2014 and 2017, multiple second-round picks and valuable wing Brandon Rush, the Utah Jazz agreed to be burdened by the yoke of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson, arguably the two most overpaid players in the league. Both once valuable players, Biedrins and Jefferson have seen their production and efficiency numbers fall off a cliff in recent years, especially in the immediately preceding season. At over $11 million for Jefferson and $9 million for Biedrins, Lindsey paid through the nose to acquire the cache of picks and Rush, especially considering little production is expected from Jefferson and Biedrins.
It certainly appears as if Utah has relegated itself to giving the youth of the team valuable minutes to develop at the cost of fielding a competitive team, not to mention positioning itself for a good shot at getting near the top of an absolutely stacked 2014 draft. While being a bottom 5-10 team in the league looks like the most likely scenario, the Jazz being a surprisingly competitive team is not out of the question, and not without historical precedent: see the 2003-04 season. One of the keys to Utah unexpectedly jockeying for a playoff spot seems to be getting any amount of meaningful production from Jefferson and Biedrins. As abysmal as the two looked last year, there are a few interesting tidbits of information that produce faint glimmers of hope for something of a career renaissance for one or both of the former Warriors.
Sometimes, a change of scenery can do wonders for a career. A fresh start seems to have a knack of injecting new life and subsequently new motivation in a struggling player. Coming from a relatively deep Golden State roster on which both players were buried at the bottom of the depth chart, both players have a much better shot at getting significantly more playing time on a Jazz roster that has yet to sign a single free agent. Also of note is the fact that both players are in contract years. With their gigantic contracts set to expire at the close of the 2013-14 season, a surprisingly solid season could net each player millions of extra dollars in their next contract. Certainly, neither player will get the king’s ransom they’re currently getting, but all it takes is a consistent season at anywhere near their old production levels for a team to talk themselves into giving Jefferson or Biedrins a shot.
Another encouraging statistic, in a strange, indirect way, is the huge drops both players took in certain categories from the 2011-12 season to last year. For example, Biedrins’ shooting percentage nosedived from 61% to 48%, according to basketball-reference.com. Biedrins took an unbelievably low number of shots last year (21), a miniscule enough sample size to have some hope the dip in percentage was an anomaly, a hope that is also bolstered by the Latvian’s previous shooting percentages, the lowest of which prior to this season was 53%. Throw in the fact that Biedrins is only 27, the age that most professional basketball players are at or near their peak, and there’s a respectable case for Biedrins to have a modest to moderate resurgence. Yes, it’s possible Biedrins will never resemble anything near the solid player he once was, but it’s also much too presumptuous to put significantly more stock into one season’s shooting percentage with a microscopic sample size than the preceding eight seasons that saw Biedrins hit 60% of his shots as often as not. Regardless of his shooting percentage, Biedrins is at minimum a serviceable defensive rebounder.
Jefferson’s age (33) makes it less likely that he’ll become a significantly better player in the upcoming year than he was last year, but a precipitous drop in three-point percentage from 2011-12 to last year also suggests there’s a good chance at least that facet of his game will regress to the mean some and inch closer to his career averages. Last season, Jefferson was 14 of 45 from three, for a subpar percentage of 31%. In the previous three seasons, Jefferson was at 42% or above from long range. Jefferson’s three-point percentage over the span of his career has been all over the map and thus is harder to predict, but the relatively recent success he’s had with shooting threes does indicate a potential increase. It’s not unprecedented for Jefferson’s shooting percentage to take a big step up, either. In the 2009-10 season, Jefferson shot 31% from three, as he did last season. The following year, his percentage jumped from 31% to a career-best 44% from downtown.
While the safe bet would be to proceed into the 2012-13 season expecting little to nothing from Biedrins and Jefferson, there are several interesting factors that could elevate them from dead weight on the end of the bench to reasonably significant contributors to the Jazz rotation next year. No, you shouldn’t expect either player to be dynamic players on both ends of the floor (and you should pray that Biedrins never, ever, EVER gets fouled in the act of shooting), but if they can do well at even one or two aspects of the game, it will make Dennis Lindsey’s gambit look much better.