Jeremy Lin aside, the Knicks haven't given their fans much to cheer for this season. Their stars can't seem to work together, most of their role players are playing in the wrong roles or just aren't very good, and there are no clear paths to improvement. Not surprisingly, the New York faithful have taken to booing many players, including forward Jared Jeffries.
Simply put, Jeffries doesn't do much other than play hard: in 20.5 minutes per game, he averages just 4.3 points on 34.9 percent shooting and 3.6 rebounds. Still, despite that poor production, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni wants all fans to stop giving Jeffries such a hard time, and he's willing to say it in less than friendly language. From Marc Berman at the New York Post (via TBJ):
"Indulge me for a second, anybody who boos Jared Jeffries has got to reexamine their life a little bit," D'Antoni said following the Knicks' 99-88 winover the Jazz at the Garden. "I love our fans and I like Madison Square Garden, the arena, but here's a guy who came back to us, minimum contract. He could've gone to a lot of other teams. He plays as hard as anybody could possibly ever play, with injuries, everything you ask him. He takes every charge, every dirty play, every rebound. He works every second."
Jeffries had 13 points in a floor-burn performance, taking a couple of charges and getting fouled often around the rim. He made 7-of-10 free throws and grabbed eight rebounds.
Jeffries was clearly appreciative of the support from D'Antoni. "I'll die for him," he said. "I'll leave blood on the court ... because he's the best coach in the NBA.''
Fans are hard on Jeffries because he was a nonentity in his first stint after Isiah Thomas gave him the full mid-level exception in a $30 million deal. Jeffries was also the goat in the Game 2 loss in Boston in the playoffs for going up meekly and blowing a game-tying layup in the final seconds.
What's curious here isn't necessarily that fans would boo a player on the Knicks — it's New York, and they're bad — but why Jeffries has become such a prime target for hate. Berman is correct to point out that Jeffries' first NYK contract was a disaster, and his production lacks all possible luster. On the other hand, he's a pretty minor player now earning the veteran minimum. Why not act out towards a guy who more significantly hinders what the Knicks can do?
The answer, curiously, might come in an article that argued Knicks fans should cheer Jeffries at every opportunity. In December, before this season had even started, funnyman Chris Gethard wrote a piece for The Basketball Jones arguing that Jeffries is the current Knick who best exemplifies the franchise ethos of grit, toughness, and general misfit style:
But even though it's probably the least popular opinion in New York basketball, I'm gonna go on record and say that Knicks fans should love Jared Jeffries more than anyone. In so many ways, he is as Knick-y as it gets. We should love him because he fights hard. And because he keeps coming back to New York even though we keep trading him and booing him. We should love him because he hustles. We should love him because he's weird, and seems sort of sad. We should love him because his head is naturally shaped like most peoples' heads could only be after being beaten as part of a gang initiation. Most of all, we should love him because he knows he can't score, he knows he shouldn't be getting these minutes and so he does what Starks or Oakley would have done — he takes charges. He finds a way.
Again, Gethard's article was written before the Knicks experience went horribly awry over the last few weeks. As long as the team is in disarray, the qualities that make Jeffries such an exemplary Knick will also make him a target for criticism. Cheering for a player who stands for a franchise's personality only feels great when the team's winning. When they're bad, he becomes a lot easier to boo.