“That’s a dumb question, because my role was the same, I just didn’t get the shots that I should get. So, I just played defense and went out there and tried to help my team. The shots didn’t come, I didn’t force them. I don’t think my role was different, that’s just how the game go.”
– Stephen Jackson after Monday’s loss when asked about his role after taking just one shot in 28 minutes
Stephen Jackson played in 761 NBA games over 11 seasons before Monday’s game. Never did he play more than 25 minutes and take one shot or less. Monday was a unique situation for one of the NBA’s notorious volume shooters. Jackson caught and released passes with serious quickness. He kept the ball moving like he was working on an assembly line. There’s some good and some bad to that.
He wasn’t a ball-stopper, which he’s been accused of being at times this season. But he wasn’t a creator either. He didn’t probe the defense with his dribble, he didn’t seem like a much of a threat to catch and shoot off a kick out, he just moved the ball along and went on his way.
It wasn’t like Jackson didn’t care. He played hard and gave a strong effort on defense. Coach Scott Skiles acknowledged as much after the game.
“I thought he was very good on Joe (Johnson) individually defensively,” Skiles said after the game. “Offensively, yeah, he just seemed to be moving the ball around, he didn’t get many opportunities.”
Have we ever known Jackson to wait for opportunities? He isn’t Andrew Bogut. He isn’t waiting on teammates to dump it down to him in the post. He’s typically the guy creating opportunities for his teammates.
But Milwaukee didn’t trade for Jackson in June hoping to get Royal Ivey.
They wanted a complete player. Someone who could be relied on for some scoring punch, some assists and the sort of defense Jackson played Monday night. There was lots of talk about his ability to create shots for not only himself, but for others. We saw little of that creativity from Jackson against the Hawks. Not that it’s bad that Jackson was moving the ball. Forcing shots isn’t a great thing either. Jackson is better off swinging the ball around the perimeter than chucking contested 28-foot threes. Sometimes he’ll do that though, so it was unusual he had suddenly removed all those very Stephen Jackson specific aspects of his game.
The reasons for the sudden philosophical shift in the mercurial forward were flying around pretty quick last night. Lots of people are crying foul, saying Jackson was up to something. So far, we don’t have any evidence to indicate that’s the case. If Scott Skiles really thought a player was doing anything other than making what that player thought were the best decisions for the team, I have a hard time believing that player would have played virtually the entire fourth quarter of a game. He doesn’t often get into those kinds of games, especially in the fourth quarter of a game the team could really use.
We’ve seen two extreme sides of Jackson this season. There have been games where he’s come in and shot without conscience. In Milwaukee’s opener in Charlottes this year, hardly a moment went by when Jackson was on the court that he didn’t shoot. And in most games, when he hasn’t been shooting, he’s been looking to find teammates cutting or somewhere around the hoop. He’s taken more than his share of chances with the ball all season.
Monday he took zero chances. He played as safe as a player can play. When Brandon Jennings kicked out to him after a Milwaukee offensive rebound with the Bucks down three and 30 seconds to play, Jackson gave it up immediately when Jennings got back behind the arc and headed into the corner. Stephen Jackson, of all people, seemed to have little interest in offense with 30 seconds to play.
Jackson obviously wasn’t interested in talking about the differences in his game Monday when contrasted with his typical outings. That likely was his defense mechanisms kicking in once again. He’s been burned so many times before, it kind of seems like Jackson looks to take a shot at everyone else because he knows they’ll be coming for him. It seems like a product of coverage of him throughout this career and all that’s been written about his persona.
So as for why his game seemed so different, my guess is no better than yours. But we certainly saw a side of Jackson we’ve never seen before. If we can see a side that exists somewhere between that one and the one that shoots constantly, I think we’ll all appreciate Jackson a bit more.