Fiery Stephen Jackson Leading Young Bucks
Since coming over in an offseason trade from the Charlotte Bobcats, Stephen Jackson has displayed the toughness and leadership that resulted in the Bobcats first playoff appearance.
Through nearly the first quarter of the 2011-2012 NBA season, an injury-riddled Milwaukee Bucks team has struggled to play many games with it’s full arsenal of players. Through these tough times early on, the Bucks have found a leader in Jackson.
“I think his heart, his desire and his will to win,” Bucks’ point guard Brandon Jennings told HOOPSWORLD of Jackson’s endearing qualities. “He brings a lot of attitude to this team that we really need, that toughness that we never had. With a guy like that it’s going to help other players around our team and make us better.”
Making bad-to-mediocre teams better is nothing new for Jackson. Over the last two seasons in Charlotte, Jackson was the reason the Bobcats made their first playoff appearance in 2009-2010 and if he wouldn’t have sustained a hamstring injury at the end of last season, Charlotte would have made it back-to-back playoff births – even after Gerald Wallace’s departure to Portland.
Captain Jack believes he can do the same in Milwaukee if this team can put in the time and effort to gel together.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Jackson told HOOPSWORLD. “We’re starting to find our niche but we have got guys hurt and haven’t had our whole team yet so it’s frustrating, but I’m happy to be here and just trying to make it work.”
With one of the best centers in the Eastern Conference, Andrew Bogut, having missed five of the first 12 games to start the year and key reserves Beno Udrih and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute each missing time; Jackson’s role has been expanded on the court, and he’s responded.
After a slow start to the season, Jackson has averaged nearly 19 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor over the last four games in leading the Bucks to two wins in that span.
“He has played very well the past few games,” Bucks’ head coach Scott Skiles said. “We don’t expect 25 or 30 out of him every night, but by his own admission he didn’t go through much of camp so he was not in any sort of mid-season condition when the season started so he’s still getting his legs under him. So we’re hoping that’s what’s occurring right now that it was just a matter of getting a little bit more in game shape.”
While the scoring is just an added plus, the intangibles Jackson brings make him an x-factor on the court. Defensively, he’s averaged 1.5 steals per game for the season (right at two per over the four) as he routinely checks the other team’s best offensive option.
“Jack is a competitor, he’s going to compete,” Skiles said. “When he’s playing anything even close to the way he’s played the last few games he’s a great weapon out there.”
Injuries have decimated this Milwaukee squad, which has led to a dismal 4-8 start to the season but Jackson believes that, when healthy, this team has a chance to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“Yeah, when healthy we definitely can push for the playoffs,” Jackson said. “That’s definitely our goal, but healthy is a big key. Every team that has good seasons a lot of things go right, guys stay healthy, balls go there way a lot of stuff. They’ve got the basketball gods help and right now the basketball gods are against us we’re just trying to figure out why.”
In terms of his feelings for his former team in Charlotte, Jackson did his best to bite his tongue and not throw any salt on that old wound. The Bobcats have the second-worst record in the NBA to start the season at 3-11.
“Shout out to Michael Jordan for keeping me on the shoe thing [but] I don’t care how they play that has nothing to do with me,” Jackson said. “I love Mike that’s all I’ve got to say.”
The 33-year old Jackson, who’s set to become a free agent after the 2012-2013 season, didn’t seem fazed by the lack of a contract extension offer from the Bucks early on this season.
“It is what it is,” Jackson said. “I’m going to go out here and try to what I can do and hopefully I can get an extension. If not I’ll get it from somewhere else.”
Even after the rash of injuries, as of Monday morning, Milwaukee finds themselves firmly in the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference. As of this morning, the Bucks are just a game and a half behind the New York Knicks for the eighth and final playoff spot.
If there’s anyone on this roster that can help break the losing mentality Milwaukee has developed of the past few years, it’s Jackson. With a little help from the “basketball gods” as Jackson characterized them, maybe the Bucks can do just that and try to make some noise come April in the watered-down Eastern Conference.