The Nets made several moves this summer, bringing in some young blood that the team hopes will develop over the coming years.
The Nets frontcourt is tooled with several talented players, if healthy --there's that phrase again-- but the team's backcourt is a question mark. For that reason, Jarrett Jack, not any of the young players, may be Brooklyn's most crucial addition of the offseason.
With Shaun Livingston on the other side of the country, Jack will have the task of being both the Nets backup point guard and even shooting guard at times. Jack has the size of a point guard, 6'3", but has the quick foot speed and shooting ability to play shooting guard. I have my doubts about Jack playing significant minutes at the two. He does not have Livingston's size to defend opposing shooting guards, but in small spurts during the midst of a game, it could work for the Nets.
Playing alongside rather than behind point guards can make Jack a significantly better option, say the numbers. In Golden State during the 2012-2013 season, Jack played 66% of his possessions at shooting guard, most of the time with Stephen Curry playing point guard. Jack had one of the best seasons of his career. Compare that to a 50/50 split between the one and two in Cleveland last year, Jack took a dip in all major categories. When Kyrie Irving and Jack were on the floor together, Jack saw better looks. Watch the play below; the first play is with Irving on the floor as the second guard, and the second one features Dion Waiters alongside Jack.
As one can see, Jack benefits from having a guard who can garner the respect of the opposition. To reaffirm my theory, I went back to 2013 and found Jack particularly benefited from playing with Curry during the playoffs.
Does this make Jack a surefire shooting guard? It could. It's clear that he reaps the benefits of playing with elite guards, and Deron Williams still has the respect of defenses, despite his dropoff during his last two, injury-plagued seasons.
But here is the troubling part of playing Jack with a point guard: It didn't work as well in Cleveland as it did in Golden State. The Cavs as a whole were worse off in 2013 with Jack and Irving playing together. The two guards spent 1127 minutes on the floor together last season and Cleveland post a net rating of -7.2 during that time, per NBA.com. Both their offensive and defensive efficiency slipped below their average as well. Of course, Cleveland didn't have the other offensive weapons Golden State had.
Jack is also a career minus defender, having an average defensive rating of 111 for his career and he has trouble defending shooting guards. The former Georgia Tech standout seems to get happy feet, jumping at subtle movements from the player he is defending, or leaving his feet too early. Not to mention, Jack is significantly outsized when defending NBA shooting guards.
Lionel Hollins should be able to work in two undersized guards into the rotation. He's done it before. In 2012, when Hollins led the Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals, his fourth most used lineup featured Mike Conley (6'1") and Jerryd Bayless (6'3") in the backcourt. That lineup was arguably the teams best one. It posted a net rating of +22.3, the best number of any lineup that played more than 50 minutes that season, per NBA.com. The lineup did perform worse than the average on defense, allowing 101 points per 100 possessions; but that was still a good enough number. Memphis was a defensive powerhouse that season, allowing 97 points per 100 possessions on average. Bayless, like Jack, isn't a great defender, but Conley is a defensive stalwart, so Hollins will have to make adjustments.
Furthermore, Hollins may be the right coach for Jack. The sixth pick in the 1975 draft utilized the high post often when he coached in Memphis. Marc Gasol is a fantastic passer for a big man. He played some of his time on the elbow or above. If Hollins is to mimic a lot of his strategy from Memphis in Brooklyn, the low post can be open for guards and wings to slash to the basket for an easy finish. That of course assumes Brook Lopez is an improved passer.
The high post is where Jack can thrive. The guard is quick with the ball in his hands and also possesses a quick first step.
The first clip features a situation with two traditional big men on the floor, each playing at the elbow. Essentially, Jack has the entire paint to himself . He picks up a head of steam quickly for an easy finish.
The second clip is different. Anderson Varejao is the only big man on the floor. Varejao is positioned, as Marc Gasol would be, above the foul line and has the offense run behind him. With Varejao out of the paint, Jack owns it again. With that quick first step, he is quickly by Jorge Gutierrez for the easy bucket.
As noted, Lopez isn't a Gasol-level passer --few are-- but for a big man he is above the mean. That, combined with his ability to shoot from 15 feet out, makes him a valuable option at the high post. This will not only help Jack, but almost all of the Nets scoring threats. The likes of Johnson and Williams like to beat their man off the dribble.
While on the topic of Lopez, it should be noted that he is one tough cover with the ball in his hands. Defenses have to key in on him when he has the ball; he is a threat to score from nearly any place on the court. The attention Lopez garners opens up every other player on the floor, particularly guards like Jack. The play below is a common one that the Nets may run often this year, an entry pass into a big man posting up who tries to take it to the rim.
Carly Landry is no Brook Lopez, and he still gets full attention from Terrence Ross on this post up. Ross dives down and Jack stands pat, waiting for his teammate to find him. Jack is a fair three-point shooter, nearly 36% on his career, and can't be left open from beyond the arc as he was in the above clip. With a dominant big man on the roster, something he hasn't had the past few years, Jack will be able to pick his spots much more easily and get better looks than what he saw in Cleveland last season.
There's something else about Jack that isn't defined by stats. He is, as one team insider put it, "hard-nosed," a tough player who's not going to shy away from big moments, a Lionel Hollins player. He was on the top of the Nets' list of off-season acquisitions with their limited flexibility. Even if Livingston had stayed, word was that the Nets would pursue Jack.
Now, where does Jarrett Jack fit on this Brooklyn Nets roster? The Nets are of two minds on how to use him. With Lopez and D-Will both healthy, the idea of running two point guards together isn't as critical as it was last year with Shaun Livingston. On the other hand, Jack is likely to get some run next to D-Will as well as behind him because he can. Jack has the scoring prowess and confidence to play the two, but he is flawed at that position. If Hollins does feel that he can work Jack in at shooting guard without hampering the defense, then that may be where Jack plays most often.
However, Jack is a fine distributor, he has a career assist percentage of 25.1%. But it seems like he is stuck in between which position he is best at. Given more point guard duties in Cleveland than he was with the Warriors, Jack was not accustomed to it. "I was more of a facilitator and had less scoring punch than I was accustomed to being and I think that was more so the cause of it than anything," Jack said about his time in Cleveland. That is why the Nets are likely going to play Jack at both positions, at least at the start of the season, then evaluate from there.
It does seem that Cleveland was a bad fit for Jack. In Golden State, Steph Curry roamed the perimeter and Jack was more of a slasher. With the Cavs, Irving was more ball-dominant and had to handle the ball himself. Williams is a bit of a hybrid between the two. Williams did have 51 more spot-ups than Irving last season, per Synergy Sports Technology, which means he played off the ball more often than Irving. The three-time All Star can let Jack get his fair share of touches. Williams has played alongside Joe Johnson for the past two seasons and is used to sharing the rock with other ball-dominant guards.
I think this Brooklyn team is the right fit for Jack. The club is versatile and has a coach that can not only do a fine job to mask Jack's flaws on defense, but also open the floor up for him to excel on offense.
The Jarrett Jack redemption season may shape up to be a good one.