New Orleans' Jarrett Jack steps up for Hornets
As a part of the second unit for the New Orleans Hornets last year, Jarrett Jack and Jason Smith spent ample time playing together, and getting used to the other's games and movement on the court.
Both learned from Chris Paul, watching the all-star point guard do his thing, observing him and taking notes for when their time arrived to play more minutes.
That time is now for Jack and Smith, especially Jack, the Atlanta native and gritty floor general.
"I've always tried to be a leader," Jack said. "That part comes easy for me."
On Monday night, Jack was at his best against the Utah Jazz, though the game resulted in a 94-90 Jazz win at EnergySolutions Arena.
Jack's game was full, playing 40 minutes, scoring 27 points and handing out 11 assists, both game highs. With some apologies, Jack's statistics looked Chris Paul-like. He got into the lane and scored with ease. He set his teammates up for open looks. He played much better than he did on Sunday night in a 96-80 loss, when he went 3-11 from the field, scored just six points and had a season-high eight turnovers.
New Orleans head coach Monty Williams challenged Jack to be a better player against the Jazz. He clearly responded in a positive way.
"Obviously I wanted to come out and have a more positive effect on the game than I did last game," Jack said. "But it still wasn't enough. You just have to go home and be ready. You can play well, but in the end you have to get the wins."
Jack inherited the position when Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. He was thrust into even more of the spotlight with Eric Gordon, the best return piece the Hornets received when Paul was traded, injured and not in the lineup.
With an inconsistent shooter like Marco Belinelli and people like Trey Johnson coming off the bench, Jack has a lot on his plate. He says that he's ready, that his time as a starter with the Toronto Raptors has prepared him for this role.
He talks to Paul regularly, about more than basketball, and labels their friendship as "all love."
Fact is, Jack has to score, and he has to make his teammates better, just like Paul did. He didn't do a good job of that against the Kings. He did a much better job of it against the Jazz, regularly running pick and pop plays with Smith and having a huge hand in the jump-shooting seven-footer scoring 16 points on 8-13 shooting.
"I think he's been doing a fantastic job of leading this team," Smith said. "He knows how to play, and he goes out and plays well almost every night. He knows where guys are supposed to be. It's just going to take some time to jell."