With five minutes left in Game 3, Stephen Curry took a pass from Jarrett Jack and twisted his ankle trying to make a cut. Stumbling around with the ball, Curry fumbled it back in Jack’s direction. With Curry obviously hobbling and two defenders trapping him, Jarrett Jack made the smart basketball play and called a timeout.
Of course he didn’t!
Jarrett Jack passed the damn ball back to a barely-ambulatory Curry. Just another day watching Jarrett Jack, a man who almost makes me hate watching basketball.
If I’ve learned anything from playing sports that is applicable to analyzing them, it is the importance of a coherent system. Playing within a disciplined system—where everybody knows and performs their role—is about the only way to beat a better opponent. Conversely, it only takes one player neglecting their role for a talented team to stumble.
After watching this season, I’m convinced Jarrett Jack is either bucking the system in Golden State, or the team has decided the rules do not apply to him.
The Warriors got off to a great start this season despite not having coalesced around an offensive identity. This wasn’t wholly unexpected, as the offseason was a time of great upheaval. Of the Warriors top ten players in minutes played last season, only two of them—David Lee and Klay Thompson—were contributors this year. Dorell Wright, Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh were traded away, and Nate Robinson and Dominic McGuire left as free agents. Andris Biedrins and Charles Jenkins saw their roles marginalized, and Brandon Rush tore his ACL in the second game of the season.
During this exploratory period, with uncertainty always hovering nearby, Jarrett Jack was a welcome addition. Would Stephen Curry’s surgically-repaired ankle withstand the rigors of the regular season? Could his slight stature still generate enough good looks? Was his true position point guard, or should he play more off ball? In October these questions had yet to be answered, and Jack was a snug safety blanket in case the answers were “no, no, off ball”. He managed to near-singlehandedly win a couple of games by employing Jarrett Jack God Mode, a style of play I’ll return to in a bit.
Thirty games into the season however, the Warriors discovered their identity: using the paralyzing threat of three pointers to open up the entire court. Unique among NBA teams, their offense worked best the threat of the off-the-dribble three pointer was ever present. The Warriors were able to consistently pressure their opponents because Stephen Curry averaged 38 minutes a game, because he thrived as a traditional point guard, and because he is able to generate better looks for his teammates than almost any other point guard in the league.
With such a young team, Warriors players developed their games to fit in. Curry and Thompson ruthlessly hunted three pointers, launching the first and the third most in the league. David Lee operated in the spacious zone created by these threats, and learned to hit his teammates for corner threes. Harrison Barnes worked on his handle and post up game to compliment Curry and Thompson, but mostly kept the ball moving around the perimeter to better shooters. Carl Landry feasted against second units, buying Curry and Thompson precious rest with an effective array of post-ups and jumpers. Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli presented just enough of an offensive threat to keep their defenders occupied, and understood that they were not to take shots unless wide open.
And then there was Jarrett Jack.
With Jarrett Jack handling the ball—and if he was in the game he was handling the ball—the system the Warriors ran was the Jarrett Jack System. If he was hitting contested shots it was called Jarrett Jack God Mode; if he wasn’t it was Jarrett Jack God Complex Mode. Most of the time it was hard to tell the difference (h/t Ethan Strauss).
Jack’s game is predicated on a heavy, possession-slaughtering amount of dribbling. Jack dribbles, and dribbles, and dribbles and dribbles. It doesn’t matter that the Warriors became a prolific 3-point shooting team because Jarrett Jack is a prolific dribbler, and the rock begins every possession in his hands. Hell, it wouldn’t matter what kind of team the Warriors were because Jarrett Jack can only run one system.
After Jack pounds the ball for what might as well be a basketball eternity, he gathers a full head of steam and barrels towards the hoop. He effectively pinballs his way down the lane, but only because he gives as much thought to his next move as a pinball does to its.
Jack frequently shoots the pull up jumper, to the point that in some circles he has garnered the nickname 20/20 because he dribbles the ball for 20 seconds before pulling up for a 20 foot jumper. His other move is to drive all the way to the hoop, only deciding what to do once surrounded by defenders. Sometimes he stops on a dime, bewildered, and is stripped of the ball. Sometimes he triggers traumatic flashbacks to the Monta Ellis era, looking around for a teammate only after he has gathered his dribbled and jumped in the air. Sometimes he shoots. Only the attempted layup has a chance at success.
If Jack were simply running the second unit while Stephen Curry caught a breather, or if he had tempered his game when Curry’s superstar talent became apparent, his play would be more acceptable. But Jack played the fourth most minutes on the team and closes out most fourth quarters with Curry and Thompson, yet he consistently marginalizes their role in favor of enfranchising himself.
As my friend Rasheed likes to say, Jarrett Jack has no chill. Ask a few Warriors fans what they think the signature Jarrett Jack boneheaded play is and you’ll be shocked at the varied answers they give. For me it is when he attempts a fast break layup over multiple defenders despite having a teammate wide open in the corner. For my brother it is when he decides to pull out of a fast break to dribble the ball for awhile and kill the numeric advantage. For some its how he manages to screws up a perfectly obvious 2-for-1 opportunity. For still others it is when he attempts to crossover, razzle dazzle his defender and dribbles the ball off of his foot. These are only the offensive lowlights of course, ignoring the boneheaded defensive plays he seems to pile up with regularity.
To reduce my abject displeasure at watching Jarrett Jack play to a single factor, of course it comes down to his relationship with Stephen Curry. Curry is a top fifteen NBA player and a top five offensive player, yet the only one that doesn’t act that way on the court is Jack. Curry’s range is so limitless that it isn’t clear that there is a bad spot on the floor for him to shoot it from, yet the Warriors regularly experience fourth quarter stretches with Jack at the helm where Curry spends many consecutive possessions rotting away in the corner. Some of this responsibility lies with Mark Jackson’s play calling, but it isn’t necessary to have a sophisticated play to understand that the ball should work it’s way into the best player’s hands at some point on nearly every possession.
The Warriors system became even more important in the playoffs once David Lee tore his hip flexor. As the above graph demonstrates, during their playoff run the Warriors are shooting—and making—more three-pointers than they did in the regular season. With the floor stretched by a non-traditional “power forward”, stalking the three-point line has become even more integral to the Warriors success. Yet, there is Jarrett Jack, running Jarrett Jack God Complex Mode by doling out a solitary assist in 34 minutes of game 3, and running Jarrett Jack God Mode by raining midrange jumpers and being the only Warrior to show up in game 5.
The Jarrett Jack supporters (who not coincidentally are usually the same people that assert that Stephen Curry is merely good) are out in full force after consecutive standout shooting performances from Jack. “We wouldn’t have won game 4 without Jarrett Jack” is a refrain I saw quite frequently, ignoring the three quarters of awful offense and the four quarters of awful defense Jack played. The poor defense is constant; the only variation in his game is whether the mid-range jumper is falling or not.
The last two games rookie Harrison Barnes has frequently been the best Warriors on the court, evolving into the focal point of the offense with Curry in an injury-diminished state. With their system faltering, the Warriors are leaning more heavily on players who weren’t ready for such responsibilities at the beginning of the season. Four rookies and a second year player, and even stalwarts Lee and Curry, demonstrably improved over the course of the season. As prognosticators have learned, this Warriors team is substantially different from the one that began the season.
Jarrett Jack is the only one that doesn’t seem to notice.