Jarrett Jack started 56 games for New York last season, ranking 18th in the NBA in assists, averaging 5.6 dimes. The point guard notched a triple-double in a Jan. 10 game vs. Chicago, along with a 22-point, eight-assist performance vs. New Orleans four days later. Despite those recent accomplishments and a career resume that’s exceptionally thick – 867 games played, over 9,000 points scored and nearly 4,000 assists distributed – as training camp approached this fall, the 13-year NBA veteran remained unsigned.
A 2005 first-round pick who’s suited up for eight different NBA franchises, it takes a lot to faze the 34-year-old at this stage, but even he was somewhat perplexed to still be on the free-agent market after such a productive year in the Big Apple. New Orleans officially added Jack on Sept. 19, ending what had been a long offseason of waiting.
“It was a bit surprising to me,” a candid Jack said when asked about being a late-offseason pickup. “I thought I had a pretty solid year last season, and I think I’ve cemented myself as being an NBA player for some years now. To be playing the waiting game that late, it was unfamiliar territory for me. Nonetheless, I’d rather go to the right fit, instead of just signing anywhere. I think (New Orleans) is a good fit for me. I’m going to come in and try to do what I’ve done for the last (13) years.”
New Orleans cycled through multiple backup point guards on 10-day contracts in ’17-18, never finding a permanent solution. Meanwhile, Jack experienced his best and healthiest season since ’14-15, when he played 80 games for a Brooklyn team that reached the playoffs. Prior to an ACL injury Feb. 6 to Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks were much more competitive than expected, at 18-18 on Dec. 30 after Jack posted 15 points and seven assists to beat the Pelicans in the Smoothie King Center. He averaged 18.5 points and 7.5 assists against New Orleans in last season’s two head-to-head matchups.
In addition to what Jack still provides between the lines, the Pelicans obtained a player with ample experience, one Dell Demps and the organization have now acquired three separate times (trade in ’10, in-season signing in ’17).
“I think they just appreciate what I bring to the table, personally and professionally,” Jack said of the Pelicans’ perspective. “I always hold myself to a high standard in those two categories.
“Dell expressed those things. Even though they have some seasoned guys here, they still have a very young group. The next-oldest player here is maybe 29, E’Twaun (Moore). Having guys around in these atmospheres that they are trying to get to, the culture they want, I guess I’m one of those pieces. I’m going to try to be as much of a positive influence as I can be.”
For all of the positives Jack can bring to a roster, he wasn’t naïve about one potential factor behind his unsigned status for much of this summer. He realized that as a 34-year-old point guard, NBA teams sometimes tend to first explore flashier options with more “upside.”
“Obviously right now I’m not oblivious to that,” Jack said of his age. “Everybody wants to get younger in this league – that’s kind of the sexy thing to do, for whatever reason. I mean, I’m about to be 35 in October. I understand the hesitancy. Age is the thing they like to throw out (as justification to not to sign an older player). You never know exactly what people’s reasoning is, but like I said, I’d rather get called into something that’s a good fit than just go anywhere.”
While looking back on last season and ahead to ’18-19, Jack describes his approach as relying on what’s always worked for him, since even before he entered the NBA as a highly-decorated prospect who’d led Georgia Tech to the ’04 Final Four.
“I stuck to my blueprint, what I’ve done the entire time,” he said. “It’s been about fighting and scrapping through everything, tough times, bumps in the road, injuries. But always keeping a competitive mindset.”