Bucks Trade Instant Analysis: Which Jefferson are the Bucks getting?
The outcome of the Richard Jefferson for Yi Jianlian trade will hinge on two questions. One, can Richard Jefferson get back to the elite small forward level he played at three seasons ago, or is he damaged goods stuck in a permanent decline? Two, was last year a truly representative example of Yi Jianlian's ability, or did he merely scratch the surface of what he can do? Once we have the answer to those two questions we will know.
Three seasons ago Richard Jefferson was a way above average offensive Win Contributor and an above average defensive Win Contributor. The two elements combined to add 10.3 wins to the New Jersey Nets, with 13.3 offensive half wins and 7.3 defensive half wins. That's lower elite production. The next season, however, his defense held steady, but his offensive production and his minutes played went into free fall (I believe he injured his knee). So did his win production, as he added 3.0 wins to the New Jersey Nets, with 4.3 defensive half wins and 1.7 offensive half wins.
Last season the trend continued. Even though Jefferson played a full season, his offensive production was below average, and his defensive production slipped below average as well. As a consequence, even though he played many more minutes than he had the previous season, he was only able to add 4.3 wins to the Nets total, with 3.2 offensive half wins and 5.5 defensive half wins.
The really troubling thing about that is Jefferson's defense at his normal spot, small forward, was way below average whereas his defense at his secondary spot, power forward, was actually above average. What's so troubling about that? Well it suggests his defensive decline was not caused by disinterest in a losing cause. If he was playing above average defense at the 4 and yet poor defense at the 3, it suggests his effort was there, but perhaps his athleticism has left him... similar to the way Hank Aaron got stronger in the home run department as he aged but could no longer play the outfield. Aging athletes tend to get stronger even as their elite reflexes fade away.
So Jefferson's trajectory is a concern. But what have the Bucks given up when they traded Yi? Well, a week or so ago I was trying to argue that Yi had the tools to be a Mandarin version of Kevin Garnett. But there were a lot of "ifs" in that proposition. I argued essentially that Yi needed to change his entire demeanor and approach to the game.
Is that likely to happen? I don't know. Erich Doerr and others have told me they still see potential in Yi, but speaking candidly, I didn't hold out that much hope that Yi would transform himself. He was nearly 22 years old, he was receiving substantial playing time... I think what we saw was what he is going to give. Glimpses of offensive production, occasional rebounding, a bit of surprising defense, and overall middling statistics.
I could be wrong and Yi could indeed transform himself into the next great thing. But I kind of doubt he will.
As for present value, here is my "Win Chart" comparing the performances of Richard Jefferson and Yi Jianlian/Bobby Simmons. As you can see, Jefferson was the best player, but technically because of his percentage of playing time, his below average play did more damage to the Nets than Yi's below average play or Simmons way below average play did to the Bucks.