Who do you want your offense to run through with the game on the line? Counting down from 30th to 1st (one per team), I’ve ranked the League’s go-to guys…
STEPHEN JACKSON, Charlotte Bobcats
Kellen Winslow II‘s favorite basketball player has to be Stephen Jackson. The NFL Pro Bowl tight end once famously spouted off in a post-game college press conference: “It’s war. They don’t give a freakin’ you-know-what about you. They will kill you. They’re out there to kill you. So I’ma kill them. … I’m pissed, man! We don’t care about nobody except The U. We don’t. If I didn’t hurt him, he’d hurt me. They were going for my legs. I’ma come right back at ’em. I’m a fuckin’ soldier!”
Stephen Jackson is a soldier. And he might have Winslow’s quote tatted somewhere in his tapestry of body art. He will go into the crowd, knuckles up, discipline be damned, ready to defend his squad. Whether it’s a discriminatory (in his mind) referee or an opposing player threatening his guys, Jackson will go to bat. He takes it upon himself to mentor younger players, and soaks up lessons taught to him by coaches and older veterans like it’s gospel. In a lot of ways, Jackson is the ideal teammate.
That loyalty, plus achieving a balance of knowing when to lead and when to follow, makes Jackson a strong candidate to be the go-to player on a good team. At the same time, he doesn’t produce consistently enough in clutch situations to be considered truly elite among his go-to peers.
Jackson is one of the better all-around players in the NBA. After being traded from Golden State to Charlotte early last season, Jackson averaged 21.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.6 steals with the Bobcats, helping guide the team to its first-ever playoff berth. And from his tenure with the chronically-undersized Warriors, Jackson showed he can play up to four positions on an NBA court.
“Captain Jack” will take and make big shots, however he isn’t the most reliable scorer, and isn’t always a calming influence because he gets so amped-up himself. And in crunch-time situations, he is a jump shooter who doesn’t have a lights-out stroke. Last season he ranked third among Bobcats in points per 48 minutes of clutch time (25.2 ppg), behind Ray Felton and Flip Murray. Jackson made only 30 percent of his field goals in the clutch — 4th quarter or OT, 5 minutes or less remaining, margin of 5 points or less — and 31 percent of his threes, while 80 percent of his crunch-time attempts were jump shots. He can create his own shot, but too often that shot isn’t a good one. You could say S-Jack is like a poor man’s Joe Johnson as a scorer.
And in no coincidence, the Bobcats often struggled to get a rhythm offensively by relying on Jackson to be the straw stirring the drink. An article in the Charlotte Observer earlier this week addressed the team’s scoring issues, particularly the way the offense grew stagnant late in possessions, resulting in too many shot-clock violations.
Jackson, last season’s leading scorer at 21.1 ppg., says he needs to pass more, while cutting down on his turnovers (3.3 per game).
“I was probably leading the team in turnovers last year, trying to make plays,” said Jackson. “I need to make the pass to set up the next pass.”
(Gerald) Wallace said that’s wise, because Jackson always tops an opposing team’s scouting report.
“Jack is 250 (pounds). There aren’t too many 250-pound 2-guards in this league. That’s a great advantage to him if he gets to the block,” Wallace said.
“Jack understands that last year he got too much into that role of trying to break a double-team. He’s got to understand that maybe the passing play is better than him trying to create through the double-team.”
Over the summer, Jackson focused on losing some of the extra bulk he’d picked up while serving stints at power forward in Golden State so he could be quicker this season. He’s also in Charlotte for a full training camp, is willing to do whatever Larry Brown says, and sees himself as the leader of this team. And Jackson remembers more than anybody that he shot just 35 percent from the field and 16 percent beyond the arc in last spring’s four-game postseason sweep at the hands of Orlando.
He’s ready to go to war this year. And while he doesn’t make as many shots as you’d want or protect the ball as much as you’d like, you’ll take that attitude any day before a lot of more talented players.
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23. Baron Davis (Clippers)
24. Ben Gordon (Pistons)
25. Andre Iguodala (76ers)
26. Yao Ming (Rockets)
27. Mo Williams (Cavaliers)
28. Brook Lopez (Nets)
29. Andrea Bargnani (Raptors)
30. Michael Beasley (Timberwolves)