This is going to be the only topic this morning because it needs a nice, long discussion. I happen to think this is one of the most intriguing, and maybe subtly important, issues facing the team in the next couple of years. What can we expect of Jarrett Jack?
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. In many ways I love Damon Stoudamire but he's an example of how easy it is to make excuses your whole career for why you weren't better than you ended up. Bonzi Wells is an even worse example. The only way to avoid that road is not to start. Don't blame it on the team, the coach, the GM, or other players. Don't mutter to the papers, don't poison the locker room, don't even cry to your mama if you can help it. Just exert your will, keep your head up, do what you're supposed to, and get better.
If Jarrett can manage that I really think he'll continue to see decent minutes even with the team's affection for Blake. Deep in their hearts I still think they believe Steve is a shorter-term answer and see Jarrett (provided he remains a Blazer) as a long-term possibility. If he does start spiraling downward, however, he could be in trouble. His main calling cards so far have been dependability and competence. Steve 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.