Now in his 11th NBA season, 34-year-old guard Bobby Jackson is New Orleans most experienced pro player and arguably its most important reserve. The Hornets signed Jackson to a three-year free-agent contract during the summer of 2006, part of an attention-grabbing offseason that also included the acquisitions of Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler.
Jackson expected the Hornets to immediately benefit from their major moves, but rampant injuries derailed New Orleans hopes of qualifying for the playoffs. Right now, with the Hornets at the top of the Western Conference standings, it looks like Jacksons vision for the potential of this club may have merely been delayed a year.
Individually, the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder has struggled through one of the poorest starts to a season in his NBA career, but hes recently been shooting lights-out from the perimeter. During the first four games of New Orleans winning streak, Jackson went 21-for-31 from the field and was a scorching-hot 11-for-16 (69 percent) from three-point range. The University of Minnesota product played in each of the teams first 39 games, prior to missing the past two due to a strained right hamstring.
We caught up with Jackson to discuss several topics, ranging from Byron Scotts recent criticism of the bench, to Jacksons decision to sign with New Orleans as a free agent:
Hornets.com: Youve been shooting the ball much better during the teams winning streak. How do you account for your improved play recently?
Jackson: Just being more aggressive. When Im aggressive, thats when Im more effective. Everyone was stressing how (poorly) the bench was playing and how I was playing. I didnt think I was being aggressive or shooting enough. I had to take it upon myself to get into a groove.
Hornets.com: You mentioned the criticism that the bench has received. One of the interesting things about Byron Scott that makes him different from some NBA head coaches is that he doesnt mince words. He says exactly what hes thinking. As someone whos been in the league for 11 years, what was your reaction to some of the things he said publicly about the bench?
Jackson: As a player, you have to respect what he said, because we werent playing up to our capabilities. As a coach, you have to say things like that to light a fire under your guys. As bench players, we knew we werent getting the job done. We didnt take it personally. We knew there were things we had to work on in our game and that we had to come out and play at a higher level.
Hornets.com: Obviously the Sacramento teams that you played on made it to the Western Conference finals and accomplished a lot, so it may be tough to compare this Hornets team, but is there anything about this club that is similar?
Jackson: Yes. Its pretty similar. Were running and gunning, and playing that up-tempo style of basketball. Were having fun and getting along as a group and a team. Those are the things that are making us successful right now. But that team knew exactly what we had to do day in and day out. In Sacramento, we were a little bit more focused. If this team can get focused, I think well be a threat. Were already a threat, but if we do that, I think we can go deep in the playoffs.
Hornets.com: Including five years together in Sacramento, this is your seventh season as an NBA teammate of Peja Stojakovic. What is your assessment of how he looks physically and how hes been playing this season?
Jackson: Hes playing extremely well. You have to look at the things he does for us every night. Hes opening up the floor for us with his outside shooting. Teams are paying so much attention to that. I like playing with Peja. Hes a great friend of mine, but hes also a great competitor on the basketball court. Hes very quiet and laidback (away from basketball), but hes going to go out and play hard every night.
Hornets.com: Other than health, what do you think is the biggest difference between last seasons team and now?
Jackson: Other than health? Weve had the same attitude both seasons. But weve been healthy this season. Thats the biggest thing. Weve always been confident even when we were shorthanded, like we were a lot last year that we could win games.
Hornets.com: You played against Tyson Chandler during his five seasons in Chicago. What is the biggest difference as a player between him with the Bulls and him here with the Hornets?
Jackson: They didnt give him the ball (in Chicago). They didnt want him to score. If youre a big man, you dont want to just run up and down the court and not touch the ball. And when you dont shoot the ball, you lose confidence on the offensive end. Coach (Scott) made it a big priority here that hes going to touch the ball and hes going to score.
Hes been more aggressive on the offensive end and is finding his offensive game. Hes always been a hellafied rebounder. He can change shots, hustle hes doing all the intangibles we need from a big man.
Hornets.com: Obviously there were several teams that were interested in signing you as a free agent in the summer of 2006, but you chose the Hornets. Given the teams success right now, do you feel even more that you made the right decision?
Jackson: It was a great decision. I think if everybody hadnt gotten hurt last season, we would have made the playoffs LAST year. But Im glad I made the decision I made. Peja was a big reason I came here, and Chris Paul was another reason. Then they made the trade for Tyson Chandler. When you see a team come together like that, it makes the decision that much easier.
Hornets.com: Everyone on the team likes to joke about your age. At 34, youre the oldest player on the team. On your birthday last season, they played a video on the BuzzVision screen in which Chris Paul congratulated you by joking Happy 53rd birthday, Bobby Jackson! Someone else joked that fans probably didnt realize it, but youre the only grandfather in the NBA. Whats it like to be the oldest Hornet?
Jackson: [laughs] You get that (teasing) when youre the oldest guy on the team. I like it, because to be honest with you, none of these guys can stop me when Im on the court. I might be the oldest guy, but I still have a lot left in my tank.
Hornets.com: Im not sure if you realized this, but when you were selected in the first round of the 1997 NBA Draft, Julian Wright was 10 years old. How much do young players ask you for advice about the league?
Jackson: They ask things once in a while and I help them. I make sure I do that, because I had veterans who helped me out when I came into the league. I make sure they do what theyre supposed to do. They respect what I have to say because they know Ive been in the league for a long time. Ive got a lot of wisdom and knowledge about the game. I try to tell them to treat their job seriously and to always stay focused.