Just three days ago, Nets rookie Cory Jefferson was an NBA laughingstock, for one bad shot that slipped out of his hands, in a game well into garbage time that eventually ended as a 105-80 dud of a loss against the Chicago Bulls. The shot spread like wildfire, topping ESPN’s infamous “Not Top 10” plays of the week and making Jefferson the butt of jokes around the country.
Jefferson took it in stride, joking about the shot on his personal Twitter page, and refused to let that airball define his game. Against the league-worst Philadelphia 76ers two nights later, Jefferson played 28 minutes, the most of his young career, notching three blocks (including this high-flying swat) and showing off the athleticism that earned him his shot in the league.
One night later, Jefferson made his first career start, hitting all five of his shots against the Charlotte Hornets, adding five rebounds, two assists, and a block in 23 minutes as the Nets cruised to a 114-87 victory. They weren’t easy shots for Jefferson to knock down, but he converted tough looks and jumpers alike, even though the Nets weren’t looking to generate offense for him.
“He had to let the game come to him, nobody was running plays for him!” Nets coach Lionel Hollins joked after the game, as shown on YES Network’s postgame show. “He had no choice. He did a good job.”
No one’s confusing Jefferson with a young Kevin Garnett any time soon, but he is a legitimate NBA talent. He’s tall, long, and rangy, with a 37″ vertical and a 7″0.5 wingspan, as measured in the NBA combine, with the right combination of size and timing to play smart and effective help defense in spurts. He could’ve been drafted higher in the second round, but refused to accept an assignment overseas, instead preferring to stay in the United States and earn a spot on an NBA roster.
The Nets ended up buying a pick to select Jefferson, who earned a non-guaranteed contract out of training camp, and with the team down three frontcourt players, Jefferson took full advantage, complementing sophomore center Mason Plumlee well in the starting lineup. The two heartily outplayed Charlotte’s combination of veteran scorer Al Jefferson and 2014 4th overall pick Cody Zeller, and helped the Nets out-rebound the Hornets 43-34 on the night.
“For a rookie, he’s making plays defensively and offensively,” Plumlee said on YES Network’s postgame. “This night and last night (against Philadelphia). He’s been huge.”
Jefferson will likely fade back into his role as an unheralded backup again soon, as Garnett returns to the lineup after taking a day to rest and Teletovic returns from a right hip pointer. But in his brief flash, he’s had a chance to show the NBA: he’s not just that guy that took a bad shot that one time.