Do the Tasmania JackJumpers have a fourth quarter problem?
The JackJumpers have outperformed expectations and come close to a monumental upset, but their inability to close out games has cost them.
Credit: May Bailey Photography
It’s the first day of 2022, and Hobart’s MyState Bank Arena is rocking. The Tasmania JackJumpers are hosting a New Year’s day blockbuster, welcoming a Melbourne United squad that is jampacked with talent. The visitors are the defending champions, winners of three straight coming into the game, and finally boasting a full-strength side after early injuries.
Surprisingly, the JackJumpers take a two-point lead into the last quarter, having led by as much as ten throughout. They come out a little cold in the fourth, but so do Melbourne; when Josh Adams knocks down a heavily contested mid-range jumper with 6:19 on the clock, Tasmania trails by a single point.
On their next offensive possession, Josh Magette pulls up for a floater in the lane. It bangs off the back of the rim and out. Clank.
After another defensive stop, Adams works around a screen and lets it fly from deep. His effort is well long and can only find the backboard. Clank.
In the ensuing trips down the floor, there’s a Mikyle McIntosh drive, a Sam McDaniel three and Magette layup. Clank, clank, clank.
Over a span of four minutes and 37 seconds, the JackJumpers score a total of zero points. In between Adams’ wild jumper and his transition layup with 1:42 left, they can only produce seven missed field goals, two missed free throws and an offensive foul. Scoring just seven points across the entire fourth quarter, their hopes of an upset are dashed despite a stellar defensive performance.
That was just the latest in a string of late-game implosions by the NBL’s newest team. After that loss to United in round five, they are averaging ten points per fourth quarter in their last three games. Also included in that stretch were a win over the struggling New Zealand Breakers, where a double digit lead was whittled down late, and a spectacular collapse against the Sydney Kingswhere they were outscored 29-8 in the final stanza.
There is no question that the JackJumpers have performed well early in their inaugural season, with a pair of wins the result of frenetic defence and a high level of buy-in from the playing group. Those two wins could have been more, though; while they sit second-to-last on the table with a 2-7 record, both their net rating and point differential place them seventh and just a touch behind the Brisbane Bullets for sixth.
While honourable losses can earn a pass mark for a while, they will surely start to wear on fans, players and coaches alike if they continue to build up. The JackJumpers can play winning basketball for three quarters against some of the league’s best, but where does it all go wrong in the fourth?
Game planning for success
Tasmania’s roster is built to do two things; scrap and fight on defence, and get out and run on offence. They have lived up to the first half of that bargain, and then some — through the first five rounds, they are the league’s fourth stingiest defence by points allowed per game (80.1) and fifth-best by defensive rating (102.7). That is despite a roster that is severely undersized, with Will Magnay (208cm) and development player Jock Perry (216cm) the only true “centres” on the roster.
Tune in to any JackJumpers game, and you will see signs of the offensive plan in motion. Any time there is a stoppage in play, Magette is scrambling to get the ball, get it to the referees, and get it back into play as quickly as possible. Adams constantly looks for opportunities to push the ball ahead and ranks third in the league for transition possessions, per Jordan McCallum, with teammates McDaniel (fifth) and McIntosh (tenth) close behind.
The problem is, those attempts to play fast aren’t necessarily reaping the same rewards. The JackJumpers score just 0.94 points per possession in transition, per Jordan McCallum, ranking them eighth in the league. It only becomes more difficult in late-game situations, as opposing teams try to slow the game down and fatigue sets in. With that energetic and relentless style of defence, it’s no wonder Tasmania is often struggling to get out and run by the fourth quarter.
When those transition buckets aren’t on offer, things become even more shaky. The JackJumpers are the NBL’s least efficient team in the half court, scoring 0.83 points per possession and battling to find open shots. Without a reliable post presence, they tend to rely on their perimeter players to generate any offence. Across entire games, the result is still a relatively well-balanced offence — the JackJumpers sit in the middle of the pack for three-point rate (fifth) and have the highest free throw rate in the league, getting to the line more than 20 times per game.
While that shot distribution is good in a vacuum, Tasmania has struggled to convert their chances. They are among the league’s worst shooting teams from the field (39.4%, ninth), from three (26.4%, tenth) and from the free throw line (65%, tenth), and those numbers only get worse down the stretch. That goes doubly in those last three fourth quarters, where they have shot a combined 22% from the field while making no threes and missing almost half of their free throws.
Those percentages are in part due to the poor quality of shot that the JackJumpers are able to create late in games. A lot of that responsibility lands with star guards Magette and Adams, who have been tasked with generating the bulk of Tasmania’s offence. Both sit inside the top 15 in the league in usage rate, per Spatial Jam; they lead the JackJumpers in shot attempts by a wide margin and Magette also sits second in the entire league for assists.
With a lack of playmaking spread across the roster, it is hardly surprising that Tasmania’s American guards have been asked to shoulder a heavy load. Both have had positive moments in the early rounds, but they have both struggled shooting the ball in line with the team’s woes. Across the entire season to date, Adams is shooting 36.1% from the field and 20.5% from three, while Magette is making 30.8% of his overall attempts and 25% of his triples.
Those numbers are far from ideal, and they dip even further late in games.