Wednesday, June 11, 2014

2014 Draft Scouting: Cory Jefferson

One of the key elements of Stan Van Gundy's offense in Orlando was having a stretch four to keep the floor spaced off of Dwight Howard.  If Van Gundy plans to replicate that offense in Detroit, he'll have to find his stretch four from outside of the organization, as the Pistons have nothing of the sort currently on the roster.  One option to potentially fill that void through the draft, or undrafted free agency, is Baylor senior PF Cory Jefferson, and it seems like the Pistons have some amount of interest in him:
 Austin is also a stretch big, although he plays a bit of a different style and is more of a project than Jefferson.  Jefferson was a late-bloomer for the Bears, failing to seriously crack the rotation until he broke through as a junior.  Jefferson had his best season in Waco that year, averaging 13.3 PPG, 8.0 RPG and converting 61.8% of his two-point field goal attempts.  He returned for his senior season and played a bigger role, yet managed similar per game numbers when his efficiency slipped.  However, he did add a three point shot to his game, shooting 36.8% from behind the line on over one attempt per game.  Jefferson also got progressively better passing the ball in his time at Baylor, tripling his Assist Rate from his junior season.  At 23 years old, he isn't young, but his game certainly still seems to be developing, and that just might be what the Pistons want.

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There's a lack of Cory Jefferson highlights available on YouTube, so you'll just have to settle for him throwing down that nice alley oop.  Jefferson's game when he arrived at Baylor, and in his first two seasons was predicated on his excellent athleticism, and that hasn't gone anywhere.  Jefferson posted a 37.5" vertical at the NBA Draft Combine, ranking 2nd among all big men in attendance.  His length also matched expectations, as his 7'1" wingspan stood out.  The combine wasn't all positive for him, however, as his weight and height were both concerning for a player expected to play PF in the NBA.  Measuring in at 6'7.5" and 218 pounds will be a cause for concern up until draft day.  Jefferson is either going to have to bulk up or improve his ball-handling and play some SF.

As far as his game goes, Jefferson uses his athleticism to his advantage, whether it be going to the rim or on fadeaways from the baseline.  He has significantly improved his footwork in his time at Baylor, allowing him to be the Bears' go-to scoring option in the post and leading the team in Usage Rate in his senior season.  While improved, Jefferson will have to do other things such as score from the mid-range and out to be a reliable offensive option as a pro.  One way he can add missing value on offense would be to continue to get to the FT line like he did as a senior.  Jefferson averaged 5.6 FTA per game (7.8 FTA/40) in his last season in Waco, the second-best mark on the Bears.  Once there he shot 64%, which was consistent with his 66% average over the course of his career.  As Jefferson's jump shot and shooting mechanics (which are solid at this point) keep improving and refining, I would expect him to raise his percentage at the free throw line.

Defensively, Jefferson will likely struggle to defend traditional, back-to-the-basket PFs at his current size and weight.  While this will be a concern, the NBA's trend towards smaller, quicker players at the four spot should keep Jefferson from being a lost cause defensively.  He averaged 2.6 blocks per 40 minutes in his four years at Baylor, including just under 3 Blk/40 as a junior.  I see him being a threat to come from the helpside and block a shot or two night in and night out if given the minutes.  If Jefferson can't bulk up a bit and does have to spend time at SF, his prospects for guarding wings aren't much brighter, as there are already concerns about his foot speed.  This quote comes from his Draft Express profile, written by Kyle Nelson:
"Furthermore, it remains to be seen whether he has the lateral quickness to defend the pick-and-roll at the next level."
No matter his struggles elsewhere on defense, Jefferson should be able to at least hold his own on the defensive glass.  He pulled in 21.0% of Baylor's available defensive rebounds last season, a respectable number at the college level.  As (if?) he gets stronger, rebounding should come easier to him thanks to his athleticism, motor and length.

I don't think Jefferson is quite worthy of the 38th pick, and that sentiment seems to be shared, as he's projected to go undrafted in Jonathan Givony's last mock draft, and is slotted 58th in the most recent mock at nbadraft.net.  However, with Jefferson coming in for a workout next Monday, it seems that the Pistons will be checking in on him, so it's not unreasonable to think they'd consider him at 38.  If he were to be the pick or, in a much more ideal scenario, sign with the Pistons as an Undrafted Free Agent, Jefferson would likely see a good amount of run in Grand Rapids with the Pistons' newly established D-League affiliate.  Minutes at PF won't be easy to come by for any hypothetical rookie PF in Detroit next season as the Pistons will have one or two of Monroe and Smith back, plus Jonas Jerebko and Tony Mitchell.  Acquiring Jefferson would have to be more of a long-term move for after Jerebko and Smith are gone and the team knows what it has n Mitchell.  A year in GR adding lower body strength and sharpening his perimeter skills could make him a Dante Cunningham-type (minus the off-court problems) asset.  While Jefferson does appear to have some level of NBA-caliber talent, I'll consider it a reach if the Pistons use the 38th pick on him and will be holding out hope that he can be signed as a UDFA, because I think the upside could justify significant playing time in the D-League in his first season.

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