Mark Jackson is a well-traveled NBA point guard
who has played for the New York Knicks
, Los Angeles Clippers
, Indiana Pacers
, Denver Nuggets
, and Toronto Raptors
over the course of a 14-year career.
Jackson was born in Brooklyn, New York, on April Fools' Day, 1965. He attended Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn, and played his college ball at St. John's University. As a junior at St. John's, he led the nation in assists with 9.1 per game. In his senior season, he concentrated more on his scoring, averaging 19 points per game, with only 6.4 assists.
The New York Knicks drafted Jackson with the 18th pick of the 1987 NBA Draft, and he made an instant splash in the pros, winning the Rookie of the Year award, and setting an NBA record for assists by a rookie with 868. Jackson averaged 13.6 points and 10.6 assists as a rookie. In his second year, he scored a career-high 17 ppg and made the Eastern Conference All-Star team. But the Knicks' coaching staff were dissatisfied with Jackson's game, as he played out of control too often, and seemed to be more interested in making the highlight films than winning games. In the middle of the 1990 season, they traded for veteran point guard Maurice Cheeks, and made him the starter ahead of Jackson. After the 1991 season, Cheeks (who now coaches the Portland Trail Blazers), was dealt to the Atlanta Hawks, and Jackson regained his starting spot.
In 1992, Jackson posted modest averages of 11 points and 9 assists, but in the offseason the Knicks shipped him to the Los Angeles Clippers for Doc Rivers and future playoff goat Charles Smith. Jackson played well in his first season as a Clipper, averaging 14 points and 9 assists, and leading them to a playoff appearance. The Clips failed to make the playoffs in 1994, and Jackson was dealt again, to the Indiana Pacers for Pooh Richardson, Eric Piatkowski, and the late Malik Sealy.
In his first season with the Pacers, they made it to the Conference Finals. Jackson posted better numbers in 1996, his second season, reaching 10 ppg for the last time in his career, but the Pacers suffered a first-round defeat. Jackson's poor perimeter defense was considered to be one of the reasons, and he packed his bags again, this time to Denver for Jalen Rose, who would later star for the Pacers. In Denver, Jackson had one of his finest seasons. He was leading the NBA in assists, when midway through the season he was dealt back to the Pacers. Indiana's offense had struggled badly without him, and in a desperate and failed attempt to make the playoffs, they sent two scrubs and two draft picks to Denver for Jackson's return. He ended up leading the NBA with 11.4 assists, breaking a string of nine straight assist titles for Utah's John Stockton.
Jackson stayed in Indiana for three more seasons, running the offense with a steady hand. Indiana enjoyed playoff success in all three seasons, going as far as the NBA Finals once, in 2000, when they lost to Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, and the Los Angeles Lakers. Jackson was a free agent after that season, and signed with the Toronto Raptors. He played a half-season there, before the New York Knicks, in desperate need of a point guard, came calling again. Jackson was traded back to New York for Chris Childs, but struggled at running the Knicks' admittedly awful offense. The Knicks suffered an embarrassing first-round exit at the hands of Toronto and Chris Childs, who frequently blew past Jackson as if he were standing still.
Jackson has done one thing exceptionally well throughout his career: passing the basketball. At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, he has a size advantage on most other point guards, and exploits this matchup by posting them up near the basket. Jackson waits for a second player to help on defense, and then finds his open teammate. Earlier in his career, this was a more effective play. Jackson is not quite the scorer he once was, and is sometimes unable to draw the double coverage, and is forced to shoot the ball himself. Jackson is not particularly adept at drawing fouls, and is not a great free-throw shooter anyway. His jump shot is a rather ugly-looking standstill heave, but he does have some success with it. On defense, Jackson is slow and easily beaten off of the dribble. When paired with a dominant center, such as Patrick Ewing in his first go-round with the Knicks, this does not pose a major problem. Jackson works hard on his defense, but simply lacks the physical tools to stop anyone. It is not hard to see why Jackson has been traded so many times in his career, why teams give up on him and why other teams will still want him. He can run an offense like few other players can, and when playing on a team with good defensive players to cover his mistakes, can make the difference between winning and losing.
UPDATE: Jackson, after another season with the Knicks where he threw a lot of assists but didn't win many games, signed with the Utah Jazz to back up John Stockton. Jackson struggled to learn Utah's offense, and had the worst year of his career.