Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Briefly Acknowledging Jerry Stackhouse's Hot Start

Jerry Stackhouse laughs at your defense, Jordan Hill. (Getty Images)

Since re-branding and relocating, the Brooklyn né New Jersey Nets franchise sure has become popular. In fact, the team's rise in the court of public opinion over the past few months has been enough to inspire shirts that appeal to new fans in decidedly different ways.

Maybe the new-found clamor is due to Jay-Z's increasing involvement or the rapper's pseudo-Rush Hour pairing with majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov. It could be that the Nets are supposed to contend with the Knicks, and both teams are projected to make it to the playoffs. The players could certainly be part of it, too, as Deron Williams is still considered a top-tier point guard, Joe Johnson — acquired from the Atlanta Hawks over the summer — has been an All-Star, and there is still hope that Brook Lopez produces worthwhile returns on his big contract.

How much of that excitement is because of a 38-year-old back-up swingman? Probably not much*, realistically, but Jerry Stackhouse is playing better than anyone expected, possibly even better than anyone of his age should be when playing against twenty-somethings night in and night out.

Here's what Stackhouse's worst stat line from this season looks like: 1-5 shooting (1-2 from three), one rebound, one steal and one turnover with an offensive rating of 54 and a defensive rating of 73 (points produced and allowed per 100 possessions, respectively) in a little more than six minutes at home against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Not good, but about typical for a guy playing a back-up role on the latter end of his career. That game was an anomaly in Stackhouse's box scores while suited up in black and white, though. He has had four double-digit scoring games — including 11 points in 10 minutes in the season opener —and has shot over 65 percent on five occasions this season, including shooting an impressive 83.3 percent in a win in Boston.

He's producing. Once again: that is the impressive part. When the Nets signed him to a one-year flier in July, Stackhouse became the typical veteran signing intended to mentor younger teammates like MarShon Brooks and fill occasional minutes when need be. There were plenty of jokes about how Stackhouse would be drawing up plays after he devised one that led to him hitting a game-winner during a pro-am game this summer. He was supposed to be easing into the now-routine transition from player to coach, essentially.

Stackhouse is the first professional athlete on a Brooklyn team to sport the number 42 on a jersey since Jackie Robinson was a Dodger. That's an honor and a tribute, but it is also symbolic of his elder statesman status. He's old enough to recognize and appreciate the impact that Robinson not only had on a spot, but on race relations in the United States.

Clearly, though, he is not too old to play competitive sports and be effective.

New Jersey recorded a 12-70 record just three years ago. Stackhouse was playing for the Milwaukee Bucks then, already a verified journeyman before stints in Miami and Atlanta led to him landing in Brooklyn. Twenty-one games into 2012-13, Stackhouse's current team is above .500 and on the way to a playoff berth, and he is a big reason for the success of the new-look Nets.

*My older brothers and I adored Stack in his prime. I texted them both the question "What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Jerry Stackhouse?" Without missing a beat, they replied with identical texts: "Detroit Pistons." We're all-in for the guy.

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