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In Defense of Jarrett

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Besides Jamaal Magloire, Coach McMillan, and half the time Zach, no currently active Blazer takes more flak (or gets less respect) from the fans than Jarrett Jack.  I've got to be honest with you...I don't get it.  Well, OK...I guess I get it.  He's not that flashy, his stats don't pop out at you, and one of the most popular guys on the team (and the most tantalizing to come along in a long while) is sitting behind him waiting for minutes.  What I mean is I don't agree with it.  Straight up, I like the job Jarrett has done for us this year.

I am not ignorant of Jarrett's shortcomings, nor is it my intent to canonize him.  He doesn't always see the floor as well as you'd like for a point guard.  That's true on either end.  A quick trip to 82Games.com will show you that the team appears to play worse defense when he's on the court even though they score more.  I've been frustrated plenty of times watching him get taken completely out of a play by a simple pick...going under when he should go over, going over when he should go under, or worst of all just not going anywhere period while his man takes open potshots.  It's happened less frequently as the year has progressed and Sebastian Telfair was much worse in any case, but I don't think you'd identify Jarrett's defense as a strength right now.  He's a little slow to recognize and slow of foot.

But those things aside (and other players who are spoken of more highly have equal or worse flaws) I think he's done a remarkable job, especially when you consider he's only in his second year and this is his first playing the position full time.

There's a lot to like about Jarrett's statistical production.  He's 23rd in the league overall in assists per game, 15th among point guards.  5.4 assists might not seem like a ton but it places him in the general vicinity of Tony Parker, Mike Bibby, Stephon Marbury, and Gilbert Arenas.  He's far above Jameer Nelson's 4.1, and Nelson is generally given credit for being a great point guard for his age.  His 2.35 assist/turnover ratio puts him 26th among point guards, which is near the bottom of the starters, but he's still above some of the people just mentioned plus he's young himself and plays on a very young team, both of which will increase turnovers.  He also plays more minutes than many of the guys above him in assist/turnover ratio.

More impressive by far is Jarrett's 46% shooting production.  That's a good percentage for any perimeter player, let alone one just stretching his wings.  It ranks him 6th among point guards and 26th among all guards in the league.  If there's any complaint against Jarrett offensively it's that you wish he'd be even more aggressive and shoot more sometimes.  He can be brilliant when he gets a fire under him.  But point guards are valued for being good and steady and that appears to be more of his style.  

Jack also ranks 21st among point guards in three-point percentage.  He's 5th among point guards who play 30 minutes or more in turnovers per game.  He's tied for 10th among point guards for steals per game.  He's 16th among point guards in overall points per game.  Again, for a guy who's still developing these aren't half bad.  In fact a lot of the NBA would take those stats as-is, right this minute in their point guard.

The things I like best about Jarrett, however, aren't found on the stat sheet.  By all accounts he's a good communicator and a willing and vocal leader.  Those qualities aren't always present in NBA locker rooms.  How many truly great players have you heard say, "I don't say much...I just try and lead by example"?  That's great, but every team needs an Avery Johnson type to rally the troops, and when that's your point guard it's even more effective.  Jarrett also obviously has the trust of Nate McMillan, who continues to start him, play him big minutes, and is invested in correcting his mistakes...claiming at times that the team's play is dependent upon him.

If you rewind your Tivo to 1:46 left in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night's Spurs game you will see another quality I value in Jarrett Jack.  At that point we were still up on the scoreboard and we had possession.  The ball went from Roy deep on the left side to Aldridge at the top of the key to an open Jarrett on the right side extended behind the three point line.  There was no hesitation in his motion.  He just shot that ball.  And when he shot it he did the "I just put the nail in the coffin" follow through thing with his shooting arm.  Now he didn't make the shot, but that doesn't matter so much to me.  The point is that it was a game-deciding shot (at least as far as it seemed) and he wanted to take it.  And not only did he want to take it, he did take it and what's more he was damn sure that thing was going in.  Not everybody has that kind of desire and confidence, let alone having it without being a cocky so-and-so about it.  Even in his later years when his abilities had waned Nick Van Exel was considered valuable around the league precisely because he wasn't afraid of that kind of situation or of taking his place in it.  I see that in Jarrett and I like it.

You don't have to believe me.  You can take it for what it's worth...this is just one man's opinion and I'm just a fan like you guys.  But this guy smells like a winner...the kind of player whose contributions you can't measure fully by stats or skills or stature.  Not everybody strikes me that way.  In fact it's been quite a while since I've gotten that vibe from a Blazer.  Maybe Scottie Pippen was the last, but that's hardly fair because he was well-established long before came to Portland.  I don't necessarily get that same feeling from some of Jarrett's more highly-touted (and maybe more talented) teammates either, including the young ones.  That's not a knock on them...maybe they haven't had a chance to show it in the same way yet.  (Conversely maybe Jarrett hasn't had the chance to show his full productivity yet.)   But part of it is also because that's a rare quality and, if present, shouldn't be ignored.  In the long run a guy who's a real winning player can pull you through scrapes that more talented and statistically productive players can't.  Of course not everybody on a team can be that way...you need those talent and stat guys too.  But if you do have one of those real intangible guys discounting him is a mistake.  Ask Damon Stoudamire about that when it comes to Avery Johnson...

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)