Golden Break: The Jackson Effect

Stephen Jackson's return made all the difference for the Warriors.  Things get trickier, however, when you delve into just what Jackson brings that makes this team so dangerous.  Make no mistake, though, the "Jackson Effect" is very real.  Here's how it breaks down in the numbers.

Stephen Jackson brings tremendous intangibles to the Warriors - leadership, focus, determination, and a little bit of danger, among other traits.  If we could track stats in those areas, Jax would be all over the NBA leaders.  Unfortunately, it's hard to put up digits for everything Jackson does for the team.  There are some stats, however, that provide a rough outline of just what a difference he makes on the court.  Tim Kawakami had a great post recently on Jackson's +/- numbers, which gives a hint at just how much he means to the team.  This is my attempt to get an even better grasp on how Cap'n Jack steers the ship.  

To get a sense of the Jackson Effect I tracked 7 categories for the pre- and post-suspension periods: points allowed, points scored, opponent FG percentage, our FG percentage, Ws' assists, Ws' steals, and Ws' turnovers.  The mix of stats gives a glimpse as to what the team managed in terms of defense, offense, and ball movement.  One side of the numbers surprised me, but the other made perfect sense.

Jackson came to the Warriors known for his shooting touch (both hot and cold).  He's won us more games with his hot hand than he's cost us going cold, but I was surprised that his return seemed to make little difference in the Warriors' offensive stats.  The Ws scored 109 a night during his 7 games off and have managed 108 a night in the 8 he's been back.  They shot .458 in his absence, .455 upon his return.  The team moved the ball for 23.1 assists a night during the first 7 games and has averaged 21.1 a night since.  As for our turnovers, we've actually been slightly worse since Jackson's return, at 12.4 vs. 13.6.  

At first glance all of this seems to suggest that Jackson's triumphant return made little difference in our offensive flow.  I don't think it's that simple.  Jackson does things offensively that don't show up in the stats.  He hits huge shots, as he did against Sacramento.  He gets us points when we hit a dry spell, whether it's by getting to the line or finding Andris cutting to the basket for a dunk.  He also always keeps the ball moving, which prevents the team from falling into the stagnant game that often triggers runs by opponents.  These little things matter most at the margin and show up in our ability to win close games.  Despite all that, it doesn't look like Jackson's return did much to change the Warriors' offensive mojo.  They may look a little smoother out on the court but, for better or worse, they're not scoring in a dramatically different fashion.

Fortunately, there's more than enough dramatic change to go around on the defensive end.  Here, the numbers our staggering.  Points allowed before Jackson: 116.  After: 100.  Opponent shooting percentage before: .531.  After: .440.  Steals per game for the first 7 outings: 6.5.  Upon Jackson's return: 10.1.  

Can one man really make this big a difference?  Yes and no.  Jackson obviously has been the catalyst to the Warriors' miraculous recovery.  But to view the change as brought about by just one individual is to miss the most beautiful thing about the 07-08 Warriors.  Jackson just provided the missing piece that allowed a much grander machine to run at full speed.  This "team" fits the word so perfectly that when you switch out a single player, you get an entirely different beast.  They are much more than the sum of their parts when Jackson joins the other 7 players in the rotation.  Their individual identities - as we saw during the embarrassing 0-6 start - pale in comparison to the damage they can do collectively, running together like we've seen over the past two weeks.  

Still, it would be unfair to miss the things Jackson does to bind this team together. He covers more ground on defense than anyone else on the court, constantly switching to the ball and playing the passing lanes for tips and steals.  He barks instructions when plays break down.  He pulls guys aside (looking at you MP) when they zig when they should zag.  Most of all, he provides the versatility on which Nelson's entire system is based.  When Nelson regained Jackson's ability to guard 4 different positions, the Warriors' defense regained the margin for error that allows it to gamble - and come up big - against varied offensive threats like Phoenix and Houston.

Don Nelson's teams are constantly knocked for not caring about defense and simply trying to outscore opponents.  That may have been true at some point, but it's not true now.  To start the season, we saw something that looked far too much like the Warriors of years past.  They gave opponents FasTrak access to the lane, wide open outside shots and endless opportunities to steal close games.  With the Jackson Effect, however, the team has developed a stinginess that might make certain owners proud (depending on your take on Atma's recent post).  

Ultimately, even if you could lay out stats from Oakland to Port Arthur demonstrating what Jackson means to this team, I'm guessing that the man himself would say that there's only one stat that matters.  In wins and losses, the Jackson Effect can't be denied.  

Read Adam regularly on Fast Break, the San Jose Mercury News' Warriors Fan Blog.  

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