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Jarrett Jack Leading the Toronto Raptors

Stephen Brotherston@@ProBballNBAAnalyst IDecember 15, 2009

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 02:  Jarrett Jack #1 of the Toronto Raptors against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on December 2, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo signed restricted free agent Jarrett Jack to a four-year, $20-million contract this summer, there was little doubt he overpaid, based on what Jack could have received from the Pacers.

But there were few complaints from the Toronto media and Raptors fans, as everyone understood that acquiring a restricted free agent forces a team to overpay, and the Raptors could ill-afford to head into another season without a quality backup point guard to Jose Calderon.

With Jarrett Jack in the Raptors’ rotation,

“Raptor fans are expecting the point guard position will be a source of strength for the team this upcoming season and with a solid backup in Jack, those expectations are extremely reasonable.” Jarrett Jack, Toronto Raptors Best Backup!

When Jack was introduced to the Toronto media, it was apparent that he came from a team-first background above all else. Jack’s parents fed, clothed, and entertained his teammates all the way from grade school through college.

It was also apparent that Jack himself was a team-first player who wants to do what he can to help his team win games.

And Jack loves to talk. Even with Chris Bosh trying to muscle in on Jack’s inaugural interview, Jack held his own with both Bosh and Raptors TV.

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Jarrett Jack struggled to start this season with the Raptors, averaging just 6.25 points and 3.0 assists over his first dozen games.

Perhaps it was the eight road games against Western Conference clubs? Perhaps just a lack of familiarity with his new teammates? But it could also have been the significant number of minutes that Jay Triano used Jack as an undersized shooting guard.

Because of his size and strength, Jack has played shooting guard in the past. Even in college, he has enjoyed his best success as a point guard, and legitimate questions were being raised. (Can the Toronto Raptors’ Jarrett Jack play shooting guard?)

While Jack can likely provide good minutes at shooting guard when playing against specific smaller lineups, Triano appeared to grossly overuse Jack in this capacity early in the season.

After the Raptors returned from their 1-3 Western road trip, Jack began to find his game with the Raptors. Following a 17-point, three-assist game against Miami, he went for eight points and 11 assists against Orlando and 18 points and six assists against Indiana. Jack had officially picked up his game!

Unfortunately, the Raptors were about to lose theirs. After the win against Indiana brought the Raptors back to a respectable 7-8 record, the team managed an uninspired five-game losing slide that culminated in the 146-point surrender in Atlanta.

That losing streak was highlighted with two hard fouls on the Raptors’ Chris Bosh that barely provoked a response from his disinterested teammates.

It would be fair to say at this point that the team, the fans, and the media looked to Jay Triano and Chris Bosh as leaders who would pull Toronto out of their malaise.

But all we heard from Chris Bosh was that the team wasn’t very good, and Jay Triano kept saying the team is just missing shots.

The calls for change came from the most unlikely of sources:

“Jarrett Jack and Antoine Wright are saying the coaches are not making players take responsibility for their mistakes. The coaches are not teaching players how to correct their mistakes. They are being told everything is okay—but it’s not okay!”  (Toronto Raptors Quarter Season Results)

More than a few people pointed out that Antoine Wright hadn’t earned the right to complain publicly, and that his own poor play was part of the problem.

No one complained about Jack’s public outburst. It just seemed odd that it was coming from one of the team’s newest players.

The result of this apparent locker room division between players and coaches was a road visit from Colangelo and a players' meeting to clear the air.

And clear the air it did. The Raptors won two road games in a row for the first time this season.

In that second road win, the Raptors' Jose Calderon suffered a hip injury that has kept him out of the Raptors starting lineup ever since. And as Jack himself pointed out, injuries are a part of the game, and provide opportunities for other players.

As a starter for the past four games, Jarrett Jack has significantly stepped up his performance. While shooting better than 55 percent from the field, Jack has averaged 14.8 points, 6.2 assists, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.5 steals. The only complaint would be his 3.25 turnovers per game.

But perhaps the most impressive thing Jack has done recently was to show real leadership on the floor.  In the game against Houston following Trevor Ariza’s attempt to behead Raptors’ rookie DeMar DeRozan, Jack made it clear he was going to stand up for his teammates:

“I actually didn’t see what happened. I was up running with DeMar and when I turned around I saw the ref making the technical foul signal and I saw our whole bench standing up. I knew he must have done something. I’m going to have anyone’s back in that situation and stand up for them. No question.”

With that move, Jack showed everyone that he is the team’s leader on the floor.  He can do more than just complain about bad play and weak coaching. He will take charge of bad situations when it matters and where it happens.

Jack’s actions over the past two weeks represent what has been missing from the team during this season and in the recent past: a person who other players can look to for inspiration and support.

Jarrett Jack is not the most talented player on the Toronto Raptors. But a team’s leader does not have to be the team’s best player.

Jack has seen a leadership void and stepped in to give the Raptors what they have needed most: someone to follow.

Hopefully he can keep it up.

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