As a general rule, December signings don’t make or break an NBA team’s season, but the Los Angeles Clippers might be in a situation where newcomer Stephen Jackson could be a key to them surviving the next few weeks or months.
Jackson, who was signed on Dec. 10, per NBA.com, has not exactly set the world on fire in his two games for Los Angeles, averaging just 1.5 points, 1.5 boards and one steal in 17.5 minutes, but with the Clips in dire need of some help on the wing he could find his minute total and role increasing dramatically.
L.A.’s perimeter rotation was expected to be their biggest strength in 2013-14, but injuries to Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick and rookie Reggie Bullock, as well as the struggles of Jared Dudley, have forced the team to rely on Willie Green more than anyone wants to see.
With those players still a ways away from returning and the Clippers quickly slipping down the brutal Western Conference hierarchy, they are going to need Jackson to step in and get his bearings quickly. The fact that he played 23 minutes in just his second game back says that this is not just a marginal signing by L.A.
The idea that a player who was out of the league to start the season could really swing a campaign for a title contender might seem nuts upon first consideration, but if you look closely at Captain Jack’s situation in Los Angeles it might not be as crazy as it sounds.
Another Outside Shooter
While he was once a 20-point-per-game scorer and an underrated playmaker back in the day with the Golden State Warriors, there are two skills that kept Jackson in the league for 13 seasons: his outside shooting and his perimeter defense.
Jackson is just a career 33.3 percent three-point shooter, but he has the ability to get hot and really stretch a defense with his outside shooting. He’s a reliable catch-and-shoot threat who has the size at 6’8” to get his shot off over smaller defenders.
He had a bad year shooting the ball with the San Antonio Spurs in 2012-13, as you can see by the shot chart above. But that was partially because he never got comfortable in his role.
The Clippers have plenty of shot creators on their roster, but with Green and Dudley shooting 27.3 and 19 percent from three, respectively, over their last five games, they do not have players who can benefit from the attention defenses give to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Griffin is a heady passer who assisted on 1.3 threes per game in 2012-13, while Paul created 2.6 shots from deep, according to HoopData. Griffin does a good job of reading and reacting to double-teams, while CP3 always has his head up and sees the floor as well as any point guard in the league.
On the Clippers, Jackson clearly won’t be relied upon to create much of his own offense, he just needs to stand in the corners and knock down open looks. He has missed all six of his attempted threes thus far, but it’s safe to say that he’ll improve upon that clip once he gets his legs under him.
The key to Doc Rivers’ offense is spacing, so the team can throw it to Griffin and let him work one-on-one. Unless guys like Jackson can hit perimeter jumpers, L.A. will struggle to achieve that balance.
The Clippers are sixth in the league with 23.7 attempts per game, including many in transition, and they need guards on the court who can stroke it from distance to capitalize on Paul’s and Darren Collison’s ability to push the basketball.
In short, Jackson doesn’t need to average double-digit points or make plays for his teammates on offense to succeed with the Clippers. He simply needs to knock down threes at a decent percentage.
Scrappy Perimeter Defense
Barnes and Dudley were expected to be the Clippers’ two main perimeter stoppers, and with Barnes still hurt and Dudley not as effective on both ends of the court, Los Angeles desperately needs someone who can help contain the Western Conference’s high-octane scorers.
Jackson’s not going to be able to shut down a Kevin Durant for 30 minutes a night, but with his size and defensive instincts he should be able to be a lockdown defender for five-minute spurts.
Unsurprisingly, Jackson doesn’t look like he’s in outstanding shape yet, and he’ll need to regain some of his lateral quickness in order to play heavy minutes, but Captain Jack is still excellent at reading passing lanes and coming up with loose balls.
He’s also a versatile defender when healthy, someone who can matchup with shooting guards, small forwards and even some slighter power forwards if need be.
As a Spur in 2012-13, Jackson held opposing 3s to a PER of 11.6 and opposing 4s to a PER of 13.7, according to 82Games. Granted, those were mostly bench players, but it still speaks to his versatility as a defender.
The Clippers are holding opponents to a decent 99.3 points per game and just 33 percent three-point shooting, benchmarks of any Rivers' defense. But they haven’t looked like a team that can string stops together, and they have had some trouble with rangy wings like Durant, Paul George, Jeff Green and Luol Deng.
Los Angeles has a good shot-blocker in DeAndre Jordan, but they need perimeter defenders who can keep their men in front of them before directing them toward the help defenders, something Green and Dudley, let alone Jamal Crawford, have not really done well this season.
Through 26 games the Clippers have looked like a team that lacks somewhat of an edge, which is something that Jackson can certainly provide.
He’s a notoriously hotheaded player, which got him cut from the Spurs, according to CBS Sports’ Zach Harper, but this L.A. team could use somewhat of a wild-card player, especially with Barnes sitting courtside in a suit.
There have been several games this season in which the Clippers have gotten down and simply looked lifeless, including their blowout loss to the Brooklyn Nets. While Paul is obviously a very prideful player, it helps to have another veteran in the ear of the team's younger players.
L.A. has their second-unit leader in Crawford, but they could use some more fiery competitors off the pine, a role Jackson will likely have once Redick returns to the lineup.
Jackson also has championship pedigree, as he won the 2003 title with the Spurs. He averaged 12.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists while knocking down 33.6 percent of his shots from deep, although that was more than a decade ago.
Still, this Clippers team does not have a ton of playoff experience, and the mere presence of a veteran like Jackson could pay dividends later in the season.
Rivers has a history from his days with the Boston Celtics of bringing in players like Stephon Marbury, Carlos Arroyo and Troy Murphy midway through the season to provide his teams with a spark, and it seems that the addition of Jackson could do just that.
While Jackson reportedly had trouble accepting a bench role with the Spurs, time spent out of the league generally has a way of changing a guy's perspective, and that looks to be the case with Captain Jack and the Clippers.