Through ten games, Trail Blazers reserve forward Jared Jeffries has played a grand total of 55 minutes. With so little playing time, it's no surprise he's averaging just 0.6 points, 0.6 rebounds and 0.4 assists per game, stats that lead one to believe Jeffries isn't making much of a contribution. And that wouldn't be a complete misinterpretation, inasmuch as the entire Trail Blazers bench has been infrequently used, for fair reasons, through the first three weeks of the season.
But Jeffries most impressive statistic doesn't show up on the average NBA box score, though he is somewhat renowned for it nonetheless. Jeffries, by virtue of experience and intelligence, is one of the best players in the league at drawing offensive fouls. He took two charges in 22 minutes during Sunday night's victory over the Bulls, which is impressive.
Or at least it would be for most players in the NBA. But by taking a charge, on average, every 11 minutes Sunday night, Jeffries' charges taken per minute actually declined. Nevertheless, he's still taking a charge (by my unofficial tally), on average, ever 7.8 minutes played. You wouldn't think he could keep up that kind of pace, especially if his minutes continue to increase as they have over the last three games, but that's not to say his ability to take an offensive foul is happenstance. Quite the opposite.
"I used to be able to block shots," said Jeffries. "I can't block shots no more, so you've got to step in there (to take a charge). It's just another way for us to shut down our paint. I think one of our biggest problems right now is we give a lot of penetration up and guys get a lot of easy layups. So if we can limit that a little bit more, get back in transition, I think that makes us more of a defensive team."
For all the talk about Portland's lack of bench scoring, the more serious problem has been, as Jeffries aptly notes, porous defense that has allowed opponents to shoot 49 percent from the field, the second-worst mark in the NBA. And the Trail Blazers are even worse when it comes to points in the paint, giving up an NBA-worst 48 points per game.
Can the threat of drawing an offensive foul fix Portland's interior defense? Not likely. But while the Trail Blazers bench isn't really built to score points, they can do the little things, like taking charges and grabbing offensive rebounds, to make up for their offensive shortcomings.
"Those two guys, they've stayed in the league for a long time doing what they do," said head coach Terry Stotts of Jeffries and Ronnie Price, who scored a season-high ten points off the bench versus the Bulls. "Jared Jeffries is a solid basketball player. He does all the little things that go unnoticed. Well, I think basketball players notice it, but they're not in the box score."
Stotts is right; you have to comb through the play-by-play to find Jeffries' true value. But while Stotts knows plenty about the veteran savvy on this bench, he's also learning, according to Jeffries, that the bench unit might have a little more to contribute than they've shown thus far.
"You know, it's a matter of coach getting comfortable with us, knowing how to play us," said Jeffries. "We know that our starters are definitely our go-to guys on this team, but I think or bench can contribute in different ways. I think that everyone knows their role and once everybody really understands their role, they'll play at a higher level."
Even when that "higher level" consists of remaining firmly planted to the court in order to take a charge.