Jack gives his all … and then some

Second-year Blazer point guard strives to be the team leader
by: Contributed photo, Jarrett Jack

Two scenes, somehow connected …

• Nearly an hour after the Trail Blazers' 119-101 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night at the Rose Garden, Portland's locker room had cleared out.

One player sat at the stool by his locker, a towel draped around his waist, still stewing. Jarrett Jack doesn't like losing, and he especially doesn't like losing when his team's effort has been dismal. He wasn't about to let this one go easily.

'Jack's a fiery guy,' coach Nate McMillan said. 'He plays with a chip on his shoulder. Hard work has gotten him to the NBA. Phoenix is a team that's better than us, but we didn't work as hard as we needed to. That bothered him.'

• Two nights later, an hour before the Blazers took to the Garden hardcourt to face Indiana, McMillan discussed Jack again. After facing a murderer's row of point guards in New Jersey's Jason Kidd, Sacramento's Mike Bibby and Phoenix's Steve Nash in succession, Jack would be going up against the Pacers' less-heralded Jamaal Tinsley. McMillan cautioned against expecting too much in the individual matchup.

'This season is a learning time for Jack,' says McMillan, once an accomplished-enough guard to have his number retired by the Seattle SuperSonics. 'You go from Kidd to Bibby to Nash. Then you get Tinsley, and you go, 'whew,' and all of a sudden Tinsley puts 30 points on you.'

Uh, no.

Jack dominates his Indiana adversary, going for a career-high 21 points along with five rebounds, six assists, two steals and no turnovers in a brilliant 41 minutes. And his defense has a role in Tinsley's 0-for-5 shooting performance.

Yet the Blazers fell 105-97 for their eighth loss in 10 games. Jack has done his part, but the second-year pro is savvy enough to know it's not about individual successes.

'The job of an NBA point guard is to get W's, to put us in a position to win,' says Jack, who will go up against another good young point guard at the Rose Garden tonight in Orlando's Jameer Nelson. 'I'd give myself maybe a C grade so far this season. The best point guards in this league are always associated with W's. Regardless of their situation and the players around them, they make it work somehow.

'That's something I'm going to have to figure out how to do. Regardless of whether I'm playing 20 minutes or 40 minutes, if I'm the point guard, I have to will this team to get W's.'

Mother knows best

Jack was impressed with what he saw from two-time MVP Nash in the Phoenix game.

'When I go up against somebody who is really established in this league, I look at the way he plays, the way he runs the team and the reason his teammates respond to him in a certain way,' Jack says. 'Nash leads by example. He goes out there and plays hard every play. He's positive, always encouraging. Those are qualities I have to have as a point guard.'

Jack was everything a point guard should be in Tuesday's loss to Indiana. He was more aggressive than he has been all season, especially in the second half, driving to the basket and looking for his shot or an open teammate. He gives his mother, Louise, an assist for that.

'Mom was kind of getting on me after last game,' Jack says. 'She thought I could attack a little more, not necessarily to score but to put pressure on the defense. That's really my game - penetrating, making the right decisions. (Against the Pacers) I tried to make a conscious effort to get Zach (Randolph) involved early, and then kind of looked for my offense after that and see what happened.'

A learning curve

Jack is in the early stages of what amounts to a seasonlong audition with the Blazers. After sharing time with Sebastian Telfair and Steve Blake at the point as a rookie, he is the last man standing after trades sent the others elsewhere.

He ranks second on the team in scoring (12.5 points per game) while leading in assists (5.9) and steals (1.4). Jack is shooting a solid .461 from the field and is among the top five in the league in free-throw percentage (.914).

'It's a challenge,' he says. 'I think I'm ready for it and have been doing a pretty good job. It's flattering the organization did that for me. They said, 'We're putting the ball in your hands.' '

McMillan says there is a happy medium Jack must reach to be the optimum leader of the Blazers.

'It's an adjustment for him, learning how to run a team,' the Portland coach says. 'The question is, can he do it? Right now is a time to show whether he's a starter or a backup.'

Jack needs to improve on his assist/turnover ratio (2.50) and 3-point percentage (.194). At 23, though, he reminds many of a young Terry Porter. For the Blazer organization, that is a very good sign.

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