Bradley Handwerger / Eyewitness Sports
NEW ORLEANS ― Jarrett Jack sat in his locker Sunday night, his ears perked to the questions and answers going on one position over.
When the time was right, he not so subtly called for David West to give him a shout out.
No need to ask West for such favors.
Credit has been earned, especially after what he did for the Hornets (18-12) in their 93-86 win over Atlanta at the Arena on Girod.
Against Atlanta (19-13), an athletic team that gives most opponents fits, Jack was the calming, older brother presence that Paul needed.
And adding 10 points and three assists isn’t a bad thing, either, especially when starting guard Marco Belinelli goes oh-fer on the night.
“J Jack is getting a lot more aggressive and I love it,” Paul said. “I can see when he’s setting guys up with his moves.”
But it’s not that aggression on the court that paid off against the Hawks.
Instead, it was Jack’s veteran eye for what the other team is doing and his willingness to speak up even though he wasn’t spoken to.
Paul entered halftime with 4 points on 2 of 7 shooting. He finished the game with 22 points on 10 of 17 shooting, including 13 third-quarter points that helped erase a nine-point halftime deficit.
Said Jack, “I told him, ‘Hey, you have to be a scorer for us. Our offense is kind of stagnant there. They’re playing back and not allowing you to penetrate into those gaps. They’re switching the pick-and-rolls which is different.’ At that point, you’ve got to put your head down and be aggressive and be ready to score.”
And that, as much as anything, is why picking up Jack in the early-season trade is a good thing for the Hornets.
He certainly started out rough and he’ll admit as much.
Yet, he stayed patient and continued to learn Hornets Head Coach Monty Williams’ system along with his teammates’ personal on-court preferences.
“Jarrett Jack is a starter in this league,” Paul said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that. It’s fun, not only to see him doing well, but I think it’s fun for me when we get on the court together because we know each other so well.”
Indeed, that has been one of the improvements lately for New Orleans, which has won two straight and four of its past six.
Jack’s minutes have increased, partly due to guard Willie Green’s excused absence to deal with the death of his sister and partly due to his better play.
More and more we’re seeing Jack play on the court with Paul. That presents problems for opponents because it does precisely what they don’t want – it gets another starting-caliber point guard on the floor with Paul and it allows Paul to becoming a scorer.
That’s a scary thought.
Still, it’s what Jack is beginning to mean to Paul that could mean the most to the Hornets.
Paul now has not just a good teammate to lean on, he has a guy he considers one of his closer friends on the team in his hip pocket.
Jack, you see, is someone Paul will listen to.
“I’m going to listen,” Paul said. “If anybody has seen me play more, it’s Jarrett Jack. Like I said, we know each other sometimes better than we know ourselves. Anytime he tells me something, I’m going to listen.”
That’s what happened Sunday night.
And that’s what might happen the rest of the season.