OAKLAND, Calif. — One of the first times Jarrett Jack played organized basketball, every player on his team wanted to be in the starting lineup. So his youth coach posed a question.
“He said, ‘Who wants to start?’” Jack said. “Obviously, 10 years old, all of us raise our hand. So he said, ‘OK, what if I start you guys and 2 seconds into the game I take you all out, and I put those guys who were on the bench and didn’t start and I let them play the rest of the game, how many of you still want to start?’ And all of us were like, ‘Dang.’
“That’s kind of the thing I learned early on, starting wasn’t the end all be all. You know what I mean? So that’s never been the knock or the kick with me.”
That lesson has served Jack well coming off the bench for the Golden State Warriors this season. The calm and cool guard has been perhaps the best offseason move by general manager Bob Myers, bringing a winning attitude and swagger to a team that had been searching for a new identity.
Measuring Jack’s impact goes beyond his average of 13.2 points and 5.5 assists heading into Friday night’s game at Phoenix. Coach Mark Jackson credits the reserve guard for teaching rookies and toughening veterans, and he’s adamant that Jack should win the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award for putting the Warriors (43-32) on a path to make the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years.
“You can’t put a value on it. The guy has been off the charts,” Jackson said. “Jamal Crawford has had a great year. J.R. Smith has had a great year. Jarrett Jack is the Sixth Man of the Year. What he has brought to our basketball team, what he has meant to us, in the locker room and on the floor, closing ball games, making big plays, he’s been a steal for us.”
Jack arrived in the Bay Area last summer from New Orleans as part of a three-team trade that sent small forward Dorell Wright to Philadelphia, helped the Hornets clear cap space to match a $58 million offer for guard Eric Gordon and gave the Warriors a “glue guy” that Jackson said has been critical to the Warriors’ resurgence.
Now the well-traveled Jack, playing for his fifth different team in eight years since leaving Georgia Tech, will be a hot commodity on the free-agent market this summer after giving Golden State a much-needed spark off the bench. He also has allowed sharp-shooting Stephen Curry to play off the ball at times, directing the offense with Curry and Klay Thompson in a three-guard lineup at the end of games.
“That’s huge for us,” Curry said. “We really can exploit some of the opposing benches.”
The heart and hustle Jack often shows might be his most defining characteristic.
After the Warriors whipped the New York Knicks 92-63 at home March 11, most of his team seemed satisfied with one of the best all-around performances of the season. Jack, unhappy going 2 for 7 shooting while playing 27 minutes, instead returned to the court and shot for about an hour.
“Figured I’d just shoot my way out of the slump,” he said.
Jack often takes his rookie teammates out to lunch or has them over to his house, giving them advice on how to handle the rigors of NBA life. He has reaffirmed that attitude with his fellow veterans, sometimes screaming and shouting during practices that might feel mundane in a marathon season.
“In the past, it’d have to be my voice telling guys, ‘All right, let’s lock in, let’s pay attention, let’s get our work in,’” Jackson said. “He’s the first guy to say it, and they all respect him. He’s a no-nonsense guy that’s all about winning.”
Hornets coach Monty Williams is not surprised to hear Jack has continued to flourish since leaving New Orleans.
The two grew up outside of Washington, D.C, and have known each other for about 20 years. Jack’s father, Carlton, watched Williams as a teenager at the Marlow Heights Community Center in Temple Hills, Md.
When Jack began his NBA career at Portland, Williams was an assistant coach assigned to help the combo guard transition. Williams said Jack is one of the best leaders he has ever been around.
“I always knew Jarrett had my back,” Williams said before Jack scored 19 points to help the Warriors beat New Orleans 98-88 on Wednesday night. “Every situation, when I was an assistant coach, when I was a head coach, I had no worries with him. He’s just one of those guys. He’s loyal. He’s tough.”
Not everything with Jack is serious.
The 29-year-old guard often teased Williams for the flat-top haircut he had before starring at Notre Dame and playing in the NBA. He also impersonated the coach, as he often does with teammates.
In a 96-89 home win over Philadelphia on Dec. 28, Jack pulled off a stunt that had the 76ers fuming and the Internet abuzz. After Wright’s shoe fell off, Jack tossed his opponent’s red-and-blue, high-top sneaker deep into the crowd and left his man down court to swish a 3-pointer on the other end.
“I honestly didn’t want anyone to step on it and get hurt. I didn’t mean to throw it that far,” a smiling Jack said after the game, unable to keep a straight face.
Add all of the attitude and antics up, and the Warriors believe it deserves recognition.
Jack’s toughest competition for the NBA’s top reserve award is the Clippers’ Crawford (16.7 points, 2.5 assists) and the Knicks’ Smith (17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds). Jack said he’s honored to be in the conversation but has been focused all season on leading the Warriors to the playoffs, where they are surely headed now.
While he has started 253 of 604 games in his career, he has relished his reserve role — a Jack of all trades, indeed.
“I kind of look at it like when somebody’s a head coach. Is he just a head coach or can he be an offensive coordinator? Can he be a defensive coordinator?” Jack said. “I think when you have so many intangibles that you bring to the table, you make yourself more valuable.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP