Over the course of this season, Golden State point guard Jarrett Jack has gotten a lot of deserved love for his role in turning the Warriors into a legitimate playoff team. He’s a leading candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year Award and has started to build a repertoire of memorable performances. But Jack, like any role player stepping into larger shoes, has been on the receiving end of quite a bit of criticism as well. Particularly, his reliance on the mid-range jumper has caused a lot of concern because of the perceived ineffectiveness of the shot itself.
Now, I’m not a fan of difficult jump shots in the slightest, but I also know that disrupting flow of the game to avoid them, especially when they’re, in actuality, a strength, can result in some even worse consequences. So for that reason, mid-range jump shots are unavoidable. So are tough shots. Teams do their best to shoot as few as possible of either, but zero isn’t really a possibility. That isn’t necessarily a glowing endorsement of the mid-range shot either, though. For obvious reasons, shots taken near the basket, as well as behind the three-point line simply produce more points. This is also true for Jarrett Jack, but what’s interesting about Jack, is that he’s among the very best mid-range jump shooters in the league. Jack hits 48.3% of his shots 16-23 feet (between the free-throw line and three-point line) from the basket. Of those in the top 40 in attempts from that range, that ranks third, behind just Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat (52.3%) and Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks (49.3%). Above and beyond that, Jack’s makes are assisted just 24% of the time, while Bosh and Nowitzki are assisted 85.8% and 73.1%, respectively.
This is both impressive and concerning. First of all, that Jack’s creating so much offense on what is thought of as a difficult shot is a heck of an accomplishment. It’s a boon for an offense that has struggled to get to the rim and often needs a go-to shot when Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson aren’t hitting from the outside. However, the fact that these isolation shots have become such an important fixture is also part of the problem, or at the minimum, a poor solution for a bigger issue. That issue being Curry and Thompson’s heavy reliance on perimeter scoring.
Both Curry and Thompson are very good players, and their pairing certainly doesn’t present quite as many issues as did the Warriors’ previous back-court tandem of Curry and Monta Ellis. Thompson is a long, rangy 6’7″ to Ellis’ small 6’3″ frame. Not only is he more capable of defending shooting guards; he’s just plain better at it. But even with many of the defensive issues solved, a new one has arisen. If there was one strength Ellis brought to the team above all else, it was his ability to drive the lane. His speed allowed him to go where Curry and Thompson have struggled to get: in the paint.
Last season, before being traded for Andrew Bogut, Ellis averaged 4.8 attempts at the rim per game, converting on an average 63.1% of them. This season, Curry (2.1) and Thompson (2.3) don’t combine to match that number, while both making a lower percentage of their attempts. Their play has been superb (arguably the best back-court tandem in the league) but they lack balance.
The Warriors shoot the second-least shots at the rim of any team (22.1), ahead of only the Washington Wizards (21.6). Their great ball movement has helped to hide this fact a bit, but eventually, something needs to be done. Stephen Curry is a great shooter. Probably the best 3-point threat in the league. But be it his ankle or simply the Warriors style of play, he just doesn’t get to the rim much, nor does he convert very well once there. It’s not a big threat to opposing defenses. Klay is nearly as bad inside without being the same long-range threat that as Steph. Clearly, this is a hole that needs fixing.
Golden State’s best hope creating a more balanced offense rests in the hands of Harrison Barnes, currently. He’s the only Warrior with the strength, speed, and athleticism to regularly get to the rim, where he’s actually been a nearly elite finisher. The problem is, he’s only a rookie, and is still learning how best to do all of this. In the meantime, Jarrett Jack has been the man tasked with bridging the slow runs between hot shooting streaks from the Warriors guards. Whether the droughts last a game or a quarter, it is almost always Jack that’s asked to step up and fill the void. David Lee’s scoring is about as steady as it gets. It’s unusual to see him assume a much larger role, even during an off-night for Curry or Thompson. In fact, despite averaging 18.6 points per game to Jack’s 13.3, his season high in scoring is just one point more. For further frame of reference: Lee has scored more than 25 points just 6 times this season. Jack? An almost even 5 times.
Going back to the types of shots Jack takes to get his point, I think most of us know where a lot of them come from. In the Warriors 3-guard lineup of Jack, Curry, and Thompson, it’s most often Jack tasked with job of running the offense, freeing Steph up to be a scorer. It’s when that patented double-curl play fails, that Jack most often goes to his mid-range jumper. Sometimes, it feels like he’s taking one every other possession. When they’re not falling, especially, they start to wear on a fan’s patience. But here are some more numbers.
From 16-23 feet:
When shooting 7+: 7 games (2-5), 31-54 (57.4%)
When shooting 5+: 19 games (11-8), 63-119 (52.9%)
When shooting 4 or less: 51 games (30-21), 62-140 (44.3%)
Oddly, the more Jack shoots, the more success he has hitting his mid-range jump shots. But even during his most successful of nights, the Warriors have not fared well. It’s when the Warriors start putting the ball in the hands of Jack too much, they begin to crumble. And I think it’s here that Warriors fans have strayed from the truth a bit. Jack has been great in his role, and I don’t think anyone contests that point, but he still picks up blame for shooting too many “bad shots.” Somehow, the onus falls on him to efficiently fill a void created by the team as constructed.
There’s a reason that when Jack goes cold or disappears, that the Warriors tend to struggle. Though they’re just 1-5 on nights where Jack has his highest of usage rates (a quick estimate of possessions used), they’re also just 1-4 when the number is at it’s lowest. Add that to the Warriors 0-3 record with Jack altogether, and his importance seems to grow even larger. As Jack fought through injuries and poor shooting nights in late February and early March, the Warriors saw a large dip in offensive production. Golden State saw their scoring drop from 106.1 points per possession to just 99.9 ppp (according to nbawowy.com), which would be approximately tied for the NBA’s worst on the season (again with Washington).
Throughout the rest of this season, it would be silly of me to expect any of this to change. We’ve now played 73 games, 7o of which have come with Jack on the court. Going away from what has worked would be a serious risk, and likely, even, one that would not pay off. I just question the idea that any of the Warriors’ offensive issues have to do with Jack. He’s just a semi-effective band-aid to what is an even bigger issue going forward for the Warriors. With the point guard no guarantee to be back next season, I sure hope the Warriors front office has an idea of how to solve it.
All statistics according to HoopData.com, unless otherwise noted.