Until quite recently, 6-foot-11 Jared Jeffries, who's in the fourth season of a 5-year, $30 million contract, was known as one of the two players you'd have to absorb in any deal with the New York Knicks (Eddy Curry is the other). Jeffries is a versatile defensive ace whom the Knicks will use at the top of their zone, on the ball, as a rover, and on traps. He also has a great deal of trouble putting the ball through the cylinder which, as you can imagine, makes him a liability on the offensive end. If he remains on the perimeter, defenses sag. Play him close to the basket, and something pretty amazing happens -- defenses actually sag outward against the 3-point happy Knicks.
To the frustration of Utah Jazz (who own the Knicks' first-round pick in the upcoming draft), the Knicks have played respectable basketball for the better part of a month. New York is 8-3 in December and has beaten some pretty good teams (Atlanta, Phoenix, Portland) in the process.
I believe the key to the Knicks' improvement has been primarily the improved play of Jarred Jeffries and to a lesser degree the improvment of Duhon and Lee. In 109 December minutes where Jeffries was in and Chandler was out the Knicks have played 24 points better than average. When Chandler is in and Jeffries is out the Knicks have stumbled around and played 5 points worse than average. Jeffries adjusted +/- rating for December is 15 points better than average.
Amazingly in December Lee Jeffries and Duhon in together have played 16 points better than average. When Lee and Duhon are in without Jeffries the Knicks have played at an average level.
Winston notes that when the Knicks field a lineup of Chris Duhon, Larry Hughes, Danilo Gallinari, David Lee and Jeffries, they're "an amazing 51 points better than average per 48 minutes."
Jeffries averaged 19.2 minutes per game in October and November, but has logged 30.4 minutes per game in December. It's a small sample size -- and I'll take Chandler over Jeffries most days unless I'm confronting a very specific defensive riddle -- but the Knicks are undoubtedly a better defensive team than they were a month ago. Does Jeffries' uptick in playing time have something to do with that improvement?