The prime candidate for the NBA’s comeback player of the year and its most surprising rookie met Wednesday night and only diehard fans of the Hornets and Warriors watched.
While we shouldn’t overhype New Orleans’ Jarrett Jack and Golden State’s Klay Thompson‘s game in Oakland into the second coming of Longfellow’s two ships passing in the night, it’s just as wrong to overlook the seasons of these overlooked guards. The relative lack of attention the game got â€” would you tune into two teams diving into the lottery head-first just because? â€” is as unsurprising as Jack and Thompson have been revelations this year if graded against expectations.
With Jack holding a vicelock on his starting job, and Thompson’s minutes nearly doubling with Monta Ellis traded and Stephen Curry injured, both continued their run Wednesday. Jack dropped 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting and nine dimes with one turnover, while Thompson got 13 points with three assists and three boards with five turnovers.
You’ve seen these two arrive on your radar if you play fantasy, but you can’t blame many for not taking them initially. Jack now averages 15.5 points, 6.2 assists, 2.4 turnovers and 46 percent shooting this season, with Thompson 10.4 points on 44 percent from the field and 42 from three. Those early buyers likely sound like a hipster friend touting your new favorite artist as someone you should have seen coming months ago.
What might you have missed?
Only eight guards in the league average at least 15 points and six assists per game, and Jack is among them (Good company: Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Chris Paul, Ty Lawson, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose and Tony Parker complete the list). He’s also having the second-fewest turnovers per game among the group, next to Paul.
Need scoring in a hurry? Look up Thompson, the rookie guard out of Washington State. He’s averaging 10.2 points per game, sixth-most by rookies. Among the top 10 rookie scorers this season, only Denver’s Kenneth Faried averages fewer minutes (20.8 for Thompson to 20.4 for Manimal).
Thompson’s solid from the field but he’s seen his minutes blow up from no higher than 17.3 minutes per game in the first three months to more than 30 per now in part because of his touch from behind the arc (and yes,the whole Ellis/Curry thing). He’s tied with Brandon Knight for most made threes per game by a rook (1.5/per) and has the highest three-point percentage (43 percent) of any rookie (let’s toss out the .600 by the Lakers’ Darius Morris, he of only five attempts).
Jack is ideal in this season with teams playing more back-to-backs than ever and even three games in three nights. NBA basketball as a whole may suffer with that little rest, but Jack’s averages actually improve on zero days between burn. In 12 such games this year he’s averaged 16.7 points and 47 percent shooting from the floor â€” better than he does on one, two or three days of rest.
Thompson will never win rookie of the year with Kyrie Irving doing everything but make people salivate publicly. Even though Warriors coach Mark Jackson doesn’t let the inmates run the asylum on offense like past Warrior teams, his system was built expecting high-volume shooters (hello, Ellis and Curry). Thompson has filled the void without them. Most other rookies in the discussion for best came in knowing they’d be a mainstay, but Thompson has thrived in his opportunities. How much of his increased production is not hitting the rookie wall because of the late NBA start?
Jack is easier to put into context. He’s coming off a year where he averaged 8.5 points per as Paul’s backup, second worst of his career. His assists and rebounds per game were each the worst in his career. Now in his seventh year, he’s pulled a full Lazarus on us and emerged from the dead of both his own career and post-CP3 New Orleans.
Any research will show Jack and Thompson share fairly awful plus/minus ratings this season, which shows their teams don’t instantly get a boost when they’re on the court. It’s only fair to include that if only to show I don’t watch Golden State and New Orleans games with rose-colored contacts in. But plus/minus is also a measure of one’s teammates, too, and playing on teams whose trajectory tips downward more every game will never help. In Jack’s case, only five of the top 50 plus/minus ratings in the Eastern Conference come from players on losing teams (they’re all either Bucks or Knicks).
Should you be finding Hornets and Warriors games more often on your League Pass now? They are two of the three worst teams in the Western Conference, after all.
At the least, keep an eye on Jack and Thompson, two of the more unsung players of this season.
Who is the NBA’s most underappreciated player this season?
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