How much does one bad season matter?
Jarrett Jack would like to know the answer to that question.
Jack, who put up the worst numbers of his career for the Cleveland Cavaliers last year, eventually went to the Brooklyn Nets this offseason in a deal the Cavs used to create cap space for the LeBron James signing. After just one underwhelming season in Cleveland, Jack's days in wine and gold were over.
The 10-year vet now takes over for the departed Shaun Livingston, who signed a three-year, $16 million contract with the Golden State Warriors after one of his best seasons. And now, the questions arrive: Coming off a dreadful campaign, can Jack do any of what Livingston did to help the Nets last season?
Though it may not seem obvious, yes, he can.
In sports, we've started to create this culture which says just because a player hasn't done something, it means he can't do it. Maybe that's derived from numbers becoming more of a baseline for player analysis. Numbers say what's happened, not necessarily what will occur.
Whatever the reason, the thought process is wrong. What has happened in the past and what will go down in the future are two separate concepts. In some ways, we've forgotten that.
Recency bias is all a part of this. And that's where Jack and Livingston enter the equation.
Under Jason Kidd, Livingston churned out what was probably his best season since that gruesome knee injury (never YouTube that video) almost ended his career back in 2007. He played the 1 and the 2, posted up smaller opponents, defended the opposition's best guard, often acted as the best passer on the floor and presented serious problems on both sides of the ball as a 6'7" point guard.
Jack, meanwhile, took himself in the opposite direction during 2013-14.
After signing a four-year deal with the Cavaliers, Jack struggled mightily on a team without much structure. Coming off one of the best seasons of his career with the Warriors, one in which he would finish third in Sixth Man of the Year voting, his efficiency dropped, his defense regressed and his role diminished.
Jack wasn't the same. But that's recency bias. And that's what we have seen, not necessarily indicative of what's to come in the upcoming season.
Jack's true shooting dropped from 54.2 percent to a career-low 49.8 percent in Cleveland. He didn't create as well and he hung some bad habits from his shoulders, settling for jumpers far too often. But that was within a Mike Brown offense that lent itself to overdribbling galore with its guards.
For a better reference to what the 30-year-old Jack is, let's rewind to 2012-13, Jack's third-in-Sixth-Man-of-the-Year season, when he posted a 15.9 player efficiency rating—or to his final year in New Orleans when that figure was 17.9.
Jack was one of the best bench players in the league on those teams, scoring effectively and often, especially in that Golden State season when he shot 40.4 percent from three.
Jack can't fill all the roles Livingston did—not many point guards around the league defend like the wiry, 6'7" lamp post—but he does replace some of the versatility.
We tend to think of Jack as a backup point guard, which he is, but over the last few seasons, the Georgia Tech product has actually gotten the majority of his minutes playing at the 2. That's the type of treatment you get when you play with Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving in successive years. And it will continue with Deron Williams, though Williams shouldn't be held in the same esteem as those two guys anymore.
Reed Wallach of NetsDaily.com writes that we've seen new Nets coach Lionel Hollins promote two-point guard lineups 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.
As Wallach notes in that piece, Jack is going to struggle defensively playing alongside Williams, who isn't the stopper he once was, either. But he can make up for that by adding some offensive diversity Livingston couldn't.
From a court diversity standpoint, Jack can contribute, considering he actually plays effectively off the ball for such a dribble-happy guard.
Even while scoring at career-low rates across the board last season, Jack actually did well on spot-up shots, posting a 56.0 percent adjusted field-goal percentage on those opportunities, per Synergy Sports (subscription required). Jack can provide more spacing than the ill-shooting Livingston, whom defenders are complacent to leave off the ball in order to help teammates.
Jack can also assist the reserve offense in ways Livingston couldn't.
The Nets run as little pick-and-roll as any other team in the league. That's been a theme for the past few seasons.
Part of that is because of Jason Kidd's isolation-happy offense, something which clearly won't be an issue anymore with Kidd in Milwaukee and Hollins hanging around the Barclays Center. Mainly though, it's because of a lack of pick-and-roll personnel, topped off by Williams' ever-growing aversion to dribbling around picks.
D-Will has become hesitant creating off the bounce. He'll commonly get to the nail and then pull back, starting a play over after shaving significant time off the shot clock. And as Jack said, he can help Williams with that flaw in the Nets' attack:
Jack is someone who can actually run the pick-and-roll, the set that's become pretty easily the most common offensive play type in the NBA.
Even in a down year surrounded by subpar personnel, Synergy rated Jack as an average pick-and-roll creator last season, and he began to develop a nice chemistry with the hot-shooting Spencer Hawes late in the year after the Cavs acquired the center from the Philadelphia 76ers midseason.
Don't be shocked if Jack and Mason Plumlee conjure up some second-unit magic, considering Plumlee's affinity for bodying guys up and steaming toward the hoop. That's a love affair just waiting to happen.
Jack isn't the same as Livingston, but if last year was simply an aberration, the Nets have someone who could potentially outperform the former backup this season, especially considering the injury-prone Livingston has already started his season off key.
The Nets clearly lost defensive value, but we've got years of evidence saying Jack is one of the NBA's best backup point guards: the 15.0 PER over the past five seasons, the 54.5 percent career true shooting, the bench energy in Golden State, New Orleans, Toronto, Portland and Indiana.
If last year was a fluky season on a bad team, the Nets could find themselves pleasantly surprised.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com, WashingtonPost.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.
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