Dec. 17, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
Jarrett Jack attended four high schools in three states, is playing for his fifth NBA team after being traded four times, and yet after watching him help the Golden State Warriors smoke the Hawks Saturday night, the conclusion was this: he may finally be home.
Even though the former Georgia Tech standout still lives in Atlanta, even though he’s coming off the bench, and even though he’s not going to top the career-best numbers he put up last season as a starter for New Orleans, Jack fits with Oakland’s team.
The Warriors have gone 13-4 since a 3-4 start, and just finished a franchise-best 6-1 road trip through the East with wins in Brooklyn, Miami and Atlanta. Simply put, they bust it sans ego, and that is Jack, erstwhile Yellow Jacket.
“He’s certainly added something to our basketball team as far as his leadership, as far as the pace that he plays with, and he embodies what we preach every day,” said Golden State head coach Mark Jackson. “He stays ready, and he competes.”
The primary observation here is made not only from Saturday, when the NBA’s most surprising team from the West pummeled the most surprising team in the East, 115-93, as Jack had 13 points, eight assists, four rebounds and just one turnover in Atlanta.
Yet that game and road trip were fine examples of all that makes it appear that Jack, 29, is where he belongs. His initial comments after the game underscored his personality, which blends near the Bay.
“We have to come out and work hard each and every game,” he said. “That will build your confidence. Once you step between the lines, you just have to play hard.”
Golden State is not driven by egos, nor a single superstar. You may never have heard of the Warriors’ best player, but power forward David Lee is the only player in the NBA currently averaging at least 19 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.
This is a team of grinders, like Jack, whose reputation as a sturdy, well-rounded point guard who’ll do whatever he’s asked – and hard – has moved him to the fore with the Warriors, even as a sub. He was the same way as a sophomore PG at Tech in 2003-’04, when he steered the Jackets to the NCAA championship game.
After NBA stops in Portland, Indiana, Toronto and New Orleans (all after being drafted 22nd by Denver in 2005 and being traded that night to the Blazers), it sure looks like Jack’s landed among like professionals.
Against the Hawks, the Warriors had 32 assists. They share.
Traded from New Orleans to Golden State in the offseason, Jack – who has in the past gone public with contempt for some NBA players conspiring to create dynastic teams by way of free agency or by forcing trades – is reveling in the Warriors’ chemistry.
“The thing that I really stress to a lot of rookies is the difference between the NBA and college is in college you get to pick who you’re going to play with,” he said. “You go to those schools because you think, ‘I love the guys, and I mesh well with them.’
“In the NBA, you’re just thrust in with another group of guys; you don’t have that luxury. So for us to come together and gel with all the personalities, off the court more so than on, I think that’s the thing that makes us go the extra mile.”
It helps that Jackson absolutely knows what he’s doing on the sideline.
The Warriors will go 16-8 into tonight’s game against the Hornets having started rookie small forward Harrison Barnes of North Carolina in every game, and rookie center Festus Ezeli of Vanderbilt in 19 of the past 20 (he was injured and out in Atlanta).
When Jack found a teammate for the game-winning, buzzer-beating shot last week in Miami, he did not pass to Lee or sharp-shooting point/shooting guard Stephen Curry, nor Barnes or even Klay Thompson – son of Mychal – who averages 16 points.
No, Jack fired to another rookie, Draymond Green, who capped a fabulous career at Michigan State with a like reputation for doing with rabid zeal whatever it takes to win.
Against the Heat, that meant setting a pick on Dwyane Wade, slipping Shane Battier when Miami switched, and rolling open in the paint with a hard move — See here.
It was no wonder that Jackson said to us in Atlanta, “I have an all-time great group of guys. Even my young guys are old guys.”
The fact that Jack was trusted to trigger the Warriors’ final possession was not a surprise. After the Hornets traded Chris Paul to the Clippers last season, Jack became the starting point man and averaged 15.6 points, 6.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds and 34 minutes – all career bests.
For reasons germane to the diverse natures of NBA franchise-building philosophies, he was traded in July to Golden State, where Curry was and is the starting point guard.
Jack is averaging 10.6 points, 4.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 26.6 minutes subbing for Curry and – this is important – playing alongside him.
When they’re in the lineup together, and that’s often as Curry played 36:12 of 48 minutes against the Hawks and Jack played 29:10, Curry spends time at shooting guard.
They’re both 6-feet-3, and Jack’s strength (he’s a solid 200-or-so pounds) gives Jackson the flexibility to have him defend bigger opponents while Curry (about 185) will usually stick with somebody smaller.
“I think he’s been a top backup point guard in this league for quite a while. He’s coming off a very good season last year,” Jackson said. “Even when a team had a legitimate star in Chris Paul at the point guard position, Jarrett Jack found a way to be on the floor.”
Jack plays for a living, but he works to play. He can be found at Tech in the offseason, refining his game or in the weight room, and is within a couple classes of graduating (he went to the NBA after his junior year).
He’s made a mistake here and there. Yet he works the right way, and Jackson sees it.
The Warriors arrived in Atlanta in the wee hours Saturday after a loss in Orlando hours earlier. The team left for Oakland around midnight Saturday. The head coach let Jack stay in Atlanta for an extra night, however, a reward for a man well appreciated.
“I get to stay and see my brother, Justin, who just graduated from Morehouse, and my sister,” Jack said. “It’s going to be fun to spend some time. Got practice Monday, though. Can’t stay too long.”
Jack caught a flight back to the West Coast Sunday. He’s in the final season of a four-year, $20-million restricted free agent deal he signed with Toronto in 2009.
He’s going to earn something as his averages of 46.9 percent shooting, 39.3 percent 3-point shooting, 86.8 percent free throw shooting, his scoring, assists and rebounds are all above his career averages.
Here’s hoping the Warriors bring him back, although it’d be great to see him in a Hawks uniform. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @mwinkeljohn