When the Brooklyn Nets acquired Jarrett Jack from the Cleveland Cavaliers back in July, they weren’t getting a legitimate game-changer or a starting point guard.
The career-backup was coming off of the worst season of his nine-year voyage in the pros. His old team was giving him away for the sole reason that cap space needed to be created for the return of LeBron James. They wanted to do it so badly, so quickly they threw in Sergey Karasev.
Jack was expected to serve exclusively as Deron Williams’ backup in Brooklyn, his role not expanding to much more than spelling No. 8 when necessary.
But basketball is weird. And nearly halfway through the 2014-15 season, Jack has been as good as his head is shiny—very.
The 31-year-old floor general has started the team’s last nine contests, averaging 15.3 points, 5.4 assists, 3.7 boards and 1.3 steals along the way. Most importantly, Jack has led the Nets to a 6-3 record during that span.
Monday, Jack became the first Nets point guard to put up 20 points and 10 assists since Williams did so against the Chicago Bulls in the 2013 playoffs two years ago.
Is the journeyman truly a better player than D-Will? Stop the nonsense. But as coach Lionel Hollins has harped on time and time again, Jack has earned the uptick in playing time as well as the honor of running with the first five.
Last season, it was Shaun Livingston who surprisingly shined in the backcourt. But the difference between now and then is that Livingston and Williams played well together.
Jack and Williams? Not so much. Of the team’s 18 qualified two-man combos, Jack/Williams ranks 18th, producing a negative net of 16.6 points per 100 possession, according to Basketball Reference.
"All year long, Deron and Jarrett haven’t been very good together," Hollins said on Dec. 30. "I can’t explain why."
Tim Bontemps wrote Monday that Williams, who has battled nagging injuries all year, should return to the starting lineup. Overall, he’s got much more upside than Jack when healthy. But should he start?
When Williams starts, the Nets are 10-15. With Jack, they’re 6-3. Now, a whole bunch of factors play into the outcome of each game—wins and loss aren’t decided exclusively by who starts and who sits.
Hollins, to his credit, doesn’t coach based on star-power. He’s sitting the veteran Brook Lopez for the explosive, surging youngster Mason Plumlee, and it’s paying off.
Ever since Plumlee played 35 minutes on December 12, he’s gone on an absolute tear: 15.4 points on 69.9 percent shooting, 9.1 boards, 1.5 blocks and eight wins in 14 games.
Lopez returned from a strained back on December, but hasn't cracked the starting lineup unless you count filling in for Kevin Garnett, although his playing time has steadily increased each game. For all his craftiness on the block, Plumlee puts more life into the team and Barclays Center with his blatant disregard for the rims’ well-being.
Jack and Plumlee probably won’t remain the starters the rest of the way, but they deserve to ride this wave as long as possible. They’re both playing exceptionally well in their increased roles, and have earned the right to keep them until Williams and Lopez take them back.
On two consecutive days in late December, Jack hit his peak of the season. First, on Dec. 26, he annihilated the Boston Celtics for 27 points (8-14 FG), seven boards and five dimes and then buried Boston with the eventual game-winning jumper with less than 30 seconds to go.
Brooklyn returned home to host the Indiana Pacers one night later. Jack stayed hot, scoring 22 points and 10-of-15 shooting but the rest of the Nets sleepwalked through the contest, which was eventually lost 110-85.
Jack has had explosive games like those, and he’s also had 13 single-digit scoring games when he plays 20-plus minutes.
He’s not perfect by any means. One persistent criticism is that he's better at setting up himself than his teammates. And he over-dribbles, takes unorthodox shots, etc, But this isn’t the Jack from Cleveland. It’s not the erratic if productive Jack from the Hornets or Warriors, either.
This is a guy who’s rebirthed his game and his career and Brooklyn.
And while he might not start or play 30 minutes every night, Jack has clearly solidified the notion that he’s one of the most important players that the Nets have—both for now and the future.