Examining Jarrett Jack’s Offensive Struggles

Nov 15, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Jarrett Jack (1) drives on Charlotte Bobcats shooting guard Jeff Taylor (44) at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Jarrett Jack was in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year in 2013. Playing alongside Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in a potent Golden State backcourt, Jack shot 45 percent from the floor, including 40.4 percent from three-point land, and was a key cog for the Dubs, allowing Curry to play off the ball, and making sure that the Warriors always had a great shooting weapon on the floor at the point when needed. By all accounts, after last season, Jack earned the four-year, $25.2 million deal the Cavs gave him this summer.

12 games into the 2013-2014 season, Jack plays like the same player that he was in 12-13. He comes off the bench for Cleveland and plays starter minutes. He still provides an elite point guard the opportunity to experiment off the ball, replacing Curry with Kyrie Irving. He still is out there to be a shooter, chucking shots at roughly the same rate (13.1 FGA per 36 minutes last year, 12.8 FGA per 36 this year). The problem is, instead of being a 6th Man of the Year candidate, he’s almost been a net negative for the Cavs.

The most noticeable difference between Warriors Jack and Cavaliers Jack is his shooting performance. Last year, Jack was a murderous deep shooter, as illustrated by his shot chart:

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Look at all that green! Jack was most deadly from around the free throw line and on deep twos in the corners. As illustrated above, Jack hit 54 percent from the free throw area, 57 percent from the right wing, and 56 percent from the left wing. Those are pretty outstanding numbers for anyone, but when those shooting numbers are paired with Curry and Thompson? Pretty easy to see how the Warriors made the West semis and gave the Spurs a run last season.

Now, let’s look at Jack’s 13-14 chart.

Jack is still decent from the left corner, but as you can see, most of his shots have been from above the break this season, and as you can see, he’s not performing as well. Granted, it’s still early in the season, but the right side of the floor, which was mostly killer for Jack last season, has not been as kind in 2013. His three-point shooting above the break has been about as good as last year’s, but he’s been pretty bad on corner threes in limited opportunities. This is what has led to a 3 percent dip in his three-point shooting from last season, and his struggles on the right side have submarined his overall field goal percentage to 41.7 percent, and his TS% has free-falled to 50.1 percent, compared to 54.2 percent last year.

Jack’s shooting has been bad, yes. And compounded with Kyrie Irving’s slow start and Dion Waiters……Dion-ness, guard shooting has killed the Cavaliers early this season. However, this isn’t the biggest issue with Jack’s game for Cleveland. There’s a bigger aspect of Jack’s game that has been terrible this season, and it’s caused far more problems for the Cavs than his shooting: Jack’s passing game is gone.

The last two seasons, as a starter with the Hornets during the lockout season and last year with the Warriors, Jack has been a pretty consistent passer. He averaged 6.7 assists per 36 minutes in both seasons. He’s also been pretty decent at taking care of the ball, averaging about 2.4 turnovers per 36 minutes, not a terrible number. This year, his assists/36 has fallen to 4.9, and his turnovers per 36 have risen all the way to 3.3, third-worst among reserve guards averaging at least 20 MPG (Only Reggie Jackson and Mo Williams are worse). That 3.3 TO/36 number is also the worst number of his career. But more on turnovers in a second.

Jack is currently 36th in the league in assist opportunities per game according to NBA SportVU data analysis, averaging 9.3 per game. On those opportunities, Jack receives an average of 3.6 per game. That’s a conversion rate of about 38.7 percent, which is the worst of the top 50 in assist opportunities, an alarming stat considering Jack is supposed to be a top-flight backup point guard, and ranks behind Nate Wolters in this category. Now, many might point to the Cavs putting bad players around Jack as the reason for this lack of conversion. After all, Isaiah Thomas’s assist opportunities are converted at around a 41 percent rate, and he’s dealing with Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette launching shots. If Jack is out there with Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett all the time, isn’t that going to skew the results?

Well, that could possibly be a problem. However, Jack’s two most common lineups have a higher TS% than the team, and the third most common is Jack/Irving/Miles/Thompson/Varejao, not exactly the bottom of the Cavs barrel (The fourth, a Jack/Miles/Gee/Bennett/Zeller abomination, has only played 15 minutes together). It’s hard for me to say that it’s all just a result of teammates who can’t score when most of the time Jack sees is with the top guys in the rotation. Instead, the big problem for Jack seems to be the quality of his passes.

You can see it in any game you watch. Jack’s passes have fallen off a cliff in terms of going from point A to point B on a reasonable path. Jack seems to not have effective speed on his passes, and they appear lazy in both decision-making and technique. This is the best explanation for everything. Jack’s never been the best decision maker, often trying to force the issue to a hot shooter who’s covered, or most famously, jacking up shots late in the game when he has a much more efficient teammate standing next to him (Cue Brandon Roy and Steph Curry nodding). That seems to have been made even worse this season.

I have a theory that Jack knows he was brought in to be the key bench veteran on a winning team. He has since tried a little too hard to play that way, forcing the issue when it’s not needed with outside shooting, launching outside shots because that’s what worked for the Warriors last year, and generally trying to be a spark plug that just isn’t sparking this season. I think the losing is also getting to him, as Jack, in both interviews and on the floor, seems visibly frustrated when the Cavs get down.

This is best illustrated through his passing. Watching the first Wizards game on Friday, when the Cavs got down big and then came back, it was almost like a switch flicked in Jack. In the first half, Jack was very careless with the basketball, and his passing was terrible because of it, ending the game with 5 turnovers, most of which came in the first half. He also launched more than his fair share of deep jumpers, and he was horribly inefficient. 5-13 for 13 points isn’t good, and he was 1-4 in the first half there. Once the Cavs climbed back into the game, though, and Kyrie turned it on, Jack began deferring to Kyrie like everyone else, and his passes were much more crisp and his shooting wasn’t great, but did improve, especially in the fourth quarter. I think Jack needs to be a little more forgiving of the situation, and try to play more within himself, even if the situation isn’t ideal. If he does that, we might get a more consistent Jack. That’s what happened for him with the Warriors last year, and if he can play to his strengths more consistently, he, and the Cavs, should be alright.

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