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Community projection: Stephen Jackson

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The next great step in basketball player evaluation will be in quantifying defense, I'm sure. Defense is 50% of the game, and even if it turns out that the difference between the best and worst defenders in the league is only 1/10 the difference between the best and worst offensive players (unlikely), there's still a lot of room to take advantage of others' inability to distinguish those defensive differences.

After defense, I'm guessing the next great step will be in game theory and decision tree analyses of players' roles and actions on the court. In basketball, I think of it as the Dominic McGuire Dilemma, because McGuire specializes in not-doing: he tries his best to not have any kind of negative impact on the game, and also tends to not have much of a positive impact on the game, either. If someone just kind of exists on the court and serves to occupy some slice of a defender's attention so that the other four guys can do real lifting, how do you measure him? On the other extreme, how do you weight the decisions and actions of a player whose apparent ability doesn't really justify him taking 30% of his team's shots, but he does it, anyway? Might there be sound logic for that strategy?

I think our lack of knowledge in both these areas shortchanges Stephen Jackson.

While Jax's defense will be important to the team and occasionally lauded, it's as the Bobcats' "primary scorer" that he'll be most harshly judged. On the surface, it appears Jackson is horribly miscast, since he got to 21 points per game last year by hoisting nearly 18 shots per game. Boiling down his shooting efficiencies, assists, rebounds, and turnovers into PER, he came out as slightly above league average, at 15.71.

But no one else on the team is suited to taking that many shots, either. In fact, the "ideal" usage patterns for the Cats might involve clearing paths to the rim for Gerald Wallace, except that it would change how defenses react... and if you want to go down the rabbit hole, be my guest. See you in a few years. Maybe it really is best for Jackson to take so many shots, mixing up both inside and outside, because it allows him to do anything, and it allows his teammates space to do what they do. To sum up: Jackson's and Larry Brown's decision to make him take the most shots might actually be best for the team, even though he's less efficient at it than other guys on the squad, because his volume of shots might make everyone else more efficient.

Also, don't discount Jackson's flexible positionality. Jax, Wallace, Boris Diaw, and to a lesser extent, Tyrus Thomas and D.J. Augustin, have skills that lend to fluid roles on the floor. It may require a different coach to take full advantage of that fluidity, one who understands how roles and what those different roles are "supposed" to do have an impact on the game and is willing to work on breaking pre-set molds imposed upon the players.

Prediction...

62 games played (minutes add up, knees get sore), 2100 minutes, 19 points/40, 4.5 assists/40, .330 3P%