After a weekend of talking about media/community issues, let's get back to actual business. One of the most fascinating questions of the offseason involved the potential logjam at the point guard position. Lightning-quick media star Telfair, surprisingly solid and sturdy rookie Jack, and feel-good story Steve Blake had fans reading tea leaves and consulting obscure corners of 82games.com to handicap the eventual outcome. Faithful readers will remember that I asserted that from the outside it appeared we didn't know enough about any of the three to make a solid decision and thus I was in favor of retaining them all, or at least two of the three. Two trades later it's obvious that the Blazers feel they know more than I do (which is not surprising). I'm still not certain how history will judge those moves, but I will say that if I were forced to pick just one of the three, I would agree with the Blazers that Jack was the best option. Telfair had flair, but he was too erratic, too small, and too married to the transition game. I liked Blake's game a lot, but I am not on the "next Steve Nash" bandwagon, and since we're talking about young players on a developing team, upside is a consideration. Jack seemed to combine a decent all-around game with a fair amount of potential. He was certainly the safest pick of the three. Since he's likely to be our starting point guard for the next couple of years, I thought it would be profitable to spend a day considering the ins and outs of young Mr. Jack.
There are a lot of obvious things to like about this kid. His body stands out immediately. Listed either at 6'3" or 6'4" he has legitimate height for his position. This should be a welcome relief to fans who have become accustomed to opposing guards popping jumpers facing no greater resistance than fingertips in front of their chin. Despite the height, he is not skinny. He's a solid 200+ pounds with good upper body strength. I'll confess that I often like it when opposing point guards try to post because in the long run it takes the opponent out of their game, but there's something to be said for a guy who can't be pushed around on defense. Jack can also take a solid hit on the offensive end without crumpling to the floor, which should improve his chances for successful 3-point plays.
The other quality which put Jack head and shoulders above his backcourt teammates was his confidence. The three-year ACC career helped. Seldom did you see him look unsure or unsteady last season. He took open shots without forcing them. He dribbled with his head up. He seldom panicked when the shot clock got low. Everything about his posture said he felt he belonged on the floor. One might even hope he justly earns a "hard-nosed" appellation, an attribute in short supply around Portland lately.
Jack has always been a very good foul shooter--an underrated attribute in a guard. In college he was an amazing rebounder for his position, averaging 4.5 for his career. While you don't want your NBA point guard getting a ton of boards, there's reason to hope that he can contribute a little in this weak area for the team.
Despite these attributes, our heir apparent straddles the fence in a couple of key areas. He doesn't have the experience yet to defend the league's high-octane points. Smaller guards get around him quite a bit. He proved adequate at defending comparable opponents but he was overmatched by bigger players and volume scorers. (To be fair a lot of this happened at the shooting guard position. Presumably he won't be called upon to play much "2" this year.) Undoubtedly part of the upside the Blazers were banking on in keeping him was defensive. With steady minutes and a steady spot we'll need to see that part of his game improve this year. Also, while Jack was a fine shooter in college, his rookie-year shooting stats could use a little shining up. 44% overall from the field isn't bad for a guard, but 26% from the arc won't cut it for a high-minute point guard in the modern NBA. Jack has a fine little stop-on-a-dime jumper but he'll need to develop even more ways to score on the move. At times he seems to rely too much on the standstill jumper. If he's playing major minutes with Martell, Zach, Przybilla, and Magloire somebody on the court is going to have to move and drive.
One of Jack's strong points is that for a point guard he doesn't need the ball in his hands every second (e.g. every point guard the Knicks have). This will be good when teamed with Zach and Darius. However there's some question about him being able to set up and run the offense. It's difficult to judge such things after a rookie campaign and doubly so when the entire offense is weak as in Portland's case. Still, the ability to direct and command will be crucial with a team that, left to its own devices, tends towards the dramatically constipated. Jack was a net negative in our offense last season. That will have to change. Alongside of that come questions about his ability to take care of the ball. While not Miles-esque in his turnovers, he's no Steve Blake yet either. He averaged 5.4 assists in college, but also 3.3 turnovers. In his final year he had a few great games with 11, 6, or 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratios, but in a lot of his outings his turnovers equaled or exceeded his assist totals. His NBA rookie year ratio was a more modest 2.8/1.3, but there wasn't a lot of pressure on him to perform in key situations. He'll not only have to make a ton more routine passes this season, he'll need to take more chances also. He's unlikely to develop into a passing impresario, but he better be able to take full advantage of his steady reputation under pressure. That he will not be a turnover-creator on defense makes this even more imperative. And with the turnover issue comes an admonition: he has to be among the first guys back in transition every single time.
It goes without saying that Jarrett has got to remain healthy this year. If he goes down...hoo boy we're in trouble.
I noticed that in our recent poll about young guys scoring this season, Jack was seriously undervalued with only about 2% of voters thinking he'd have the highest average. I would guess that between the steady diet of minutes, the void of center scoring, and unproven players at the 2-guard, he could potentially score 15-16 a game. Change "could potentially score" to "better score" if we trade one of our two starting forwards. That said, scoring won't be the greatest measure of his value to this team.
I am cautiously optimistic--or maybe a smidge above that--that in two years we'll still be pretty happy with JJ. Seeing him play will be one of the interesting parts of the season.