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I Don't Know Jack

Yesterday we talked extensively about Sergio.  Today let's take up another part of this equation:  Jarrett Jack.  

I dug back all of a month or so to find my season preview for Jarrett and this is what it said:

At 12 points, 45% shooting (plus 35% from distance and 87% from the free throw line), 5.3 assists per game, and a 2.2 assist/turnover ratio last year Jarrett did a lot of things right.  In fact his season was remarkable considering he was more or less thrust into the starting role.  Granted with Brandon Roy and Zach Randolph on the floor the Blazers' point guard wasn't the hardest job in the universe last year, but his competence shouldn't be downplayed.  Even adequacy is an achievement under those circumstances and Jarrett was certainly that.  Plus there's no reason to think that he won't continue to develop.  His offense is already ahead of where I expected it to be.  At times he looked prescient out there.  We've mentioned the importance of a third scorer several times this summer.  Jarrett could actually be a legitimate candidate to fill that position.  Given enough minutes it wouldn't surprise me at all to see those 12 points turn into 15-16 and his assists go to 6-7.  At that point even people outside of Portland would be talking about him as one of the up-and-coming guards in the league.  With that durable, big body he could be the Blazers' starting point guard for years to come.

Three areas are going to need substantial improvement if Jarrett is going to see those minutes, however.  First he needs to step up on defense, or at least move his feet quicker.  He's got a great build but he needs to learn how to use it defensively.  He doesn't have to be all-world but he at least has to channel his man appropriately.  Second he's got to get better leading the break.  He was maligned mercilessly last year for the Blazers' failure to get up and down.  Frankly part of it was playing with guys like Zach, Joel P., and Ime.  But part of it was Jarrett too.  He didn't seem capable of delivering the ball where it needed to be.  That won't cut it this year.  Finally he has to learn to contribute more than just scoring.  His best qualities revolve around shooting the ball.  When he doesn't get shots he's not the same (as we saw towards the end of last season).  Flat out he needs to concentrate on setting the offense better.  With a glut of inexperienced people and an offense that's almost guaranteed to be more varied than last year's in the halfcourt this is no easy task.

The elephant in the closet for Jarrett is how the Steve Blake acquisition is going to affect him.  Some folks, observing his grit on the floor, think it will spur him to work harder.  He's saying that's what it will do, but he almost has to say that.  Other folks remember the late-season Jarrett who got down on himself and faded.  There's no way Steve Blake equates to an unconditional vote of confidence for Jarrett and I'm sure he can't help but feel a little disappointed.  This is a big part of why the topic is so intriguing.  I don't think anybody knows what we'll see.

One thing is for sure:  if he is going to be a good-to-great player in this league he needs to step up and continue improving.  He doesn't need to show off, press, or try and play outside himself but he does need to come out with fire in his eyes...  If Jarrett can manage that I really think he'll continue to see decent minutes even with the team's affection for Blake... If he does start spiraling downward, however, he could be in trouble.  His main calling cards so far have been dependability and competence.  Blake duplicates those qualities exactly, albeit in a different style.  It's pretty likely that Nate will choose one of the two as the competent guy he relies on most and ride that horse until it bucks him.  If Jarrett doesn't grab it early he could spend a very long time this season trying to get back to a major-minutes role.

I like Jarrett a lot. I hope he goes the "chin up/lots of heart" direction.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

The uncertainty surrounding Jarrett right now is hardly shocking.  In fact that's been a constant throughout his short career.  Is he the stud who scored 30 against Milwaukee last year or the dud who can't manage double digits so far this season?  Is his career 2+ to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio more indicative than his 2+ to 1 turnover-to-assist ratio this year?  How appropos is it that Basketball lists the two players most similar to Jarrett at this stage in his career as Ronnie Lester (who???) and Joe Dumars (wow!)?

What about his confidence?  Is he simply a mercurial player or is some of this because he spent his rookie year playing behind Sebastian Telfair, last year fighting off Brandon Roy in the fourth quarter and Sergio Rodriguez in the fans' hearts, and this year battling with Steve Blake for minutes?  Does he have the confidence problem or is the team's confidence in him the real issue?

Also what does Nate do with this mess?  On the one hand you don't want to trash a guy who's worked so hard, especially after just three games with a wholly revamped lineup.  On the other hand the game isn't about Jarrett's confidence, it's about winning.  You can't leave a guy in who's not producing without sending the message that winning and playing the best guys don't matter.

So what do you expect from Jarrett now?  What does he need to do to become the starter again, or is that even a good idea?  Given his performance, the needs of the team, and the need to keep him on board and productive how do you sort this out?

--Dave (