OAKLAND — Coach Mark Jackson said Saturday’s overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers wasn’t going to dampen the team’s Christmas spirit, saying that the Warriors are “very excited about where we are and are thrilled about where we’re headed.”
While a big part of that optimism is coming from All-Star-caliber seasons from Stephen Curry and David Lee, an argument could be made that the most important player for the Warriors has been coming off the bench this season.
Jarrett Jack’s per game averages are not eye-popping — 12 points, 5.2 assists and 3.3 rebounds — but the point guard has come through with big games when the team needed it most.
His 29-point, 11-assist performance against the Lakers was his best outing of the season, though you couldn’t tell anything about his individual performance from his postgame comments.
“I just wanted to win,” he said. “Regardless if I had whatever points I had or zero points. I just wanted to win and try to contribute as positively as I could. At the moment, it was just looking at the scoreboard.”
Jack has spent his career bouncing back and forth between starting and coming off the bench, and knew that coming to Golden State in an offseason trade with the New Orleans Hornets meant he would be backing up Curry.
Jackson has made a point of making sure players know their roles on this team, and he said Jack has done exactly what the second-year coach wants from him.
“He’s been great all year long,” Jackson said. “He comes in, he has a calming effect. He runs our offense, he’s a scoring threat, he makes plays. .... A credit again to our ownership and front office, doing a great job of finding what we needed. He’s been everything we thought he would be when we traded for him.”
It doesn’t end on the court, either. Jack’s seven years of experience are invaluable on a team loaded with youth. He has taken on the role of mentor with the rookies, offering advice from his first years in the league when needed.
At 18-10, the Warriors are seven wins better than they were at this point last season. A big reason for that change is their performance against weaker opponents. Last season’s team routinely had its best games against the league’s elite teams. This year, the Warriors are running away with wins against the bottom-feeders while continuing to battle against the upper half.
Jack’s comments reflect that change in attitude.
“First and foremost, every game in the NBA is tough,” he said. “It’s an NBA team in that other locker room every time you step in the building, regardless if it’s a team that plays on national TV or one of these high-profile teams or not. Nobody’s going to give you anything. It’s a very unforgiving league. We just have to have a mindset every time we step between the lines we are going to be a hungry, greedy basketball team.”
The Warriors will need that mindset if they are to continue their hot play long enough to make the playoffs for the first time in six years.