The Thunder’s selection of Reggie Jackson in the 2011 NBA draft was surprising, to say the least. Clearly, the Thunder didn’t bring in Jackson to supplant Russell Westbrook, but with super-sub Eric Maynor firmly entrenched as the team’s back-up point guard, it was hard to see where Jackson figured into the Thunder’s plans.
Sam Presti, in his press conference on the night of the draft, said of Jackson: “He’s a guy that is a willing learner. He’s a guy with great athletic ability. He’s a guy that can shoot the ball. And he’s a guy that really understands that he has room to grow and wants to improve. And that’s what his focus is.”
That learning process sped up in Jackson’s rookie season after Maynor tore his ACL just nine games into the lockout-shortened season. Jackson, however, failed to make much of an impact, averaging just 3.1 points per game while shooting thirty-two percent from the field and twenty-one percent from beyond the arc. The Thunder signed Derek Fisher, and Jackson’s minutes quickly diminished.
In this, his second season, Jackson’s improved play, coupled with Maynor’s slower-than-expected recovery from his ACL tear, inspired enough confidence in the Thunder to trade Maynor to the Portland Trail Blazers, leaving Jackson as the team’s clear-cut back-up point guard. The increase in minutes—17.8 minutes per game after the Maynor trade, versus 11.8 prior—and responsibilities granted Jackson a greater opportunity to show his talents. An even greater, though unfortunate, opportunity arose just a few weeks ago, when the Thunder lost Westbrook for the remainder of the playoffs due to a meniscus tear. Suddenly, unexpectedly, Jackson was thrust into a starting role for a team many picked to represent the Western conference in the NBA Finals.
Injuries, be it to a role player or a star, are both unfortunate and inevitable parts of the game. And when one player goes down, the next in line has to be ready to step up and fill their predecessor’s role. Keyon Dooling, a 13-year NBA veteran, has seen more than his fair share of these “Next Man Up” situations, and knows the value of this always-ready mentality. “Being ready and mentally focused, and having that confidence in yourself knowing that you can play. It’s a catch 22, getting to play behind somebody as great as (Westbrook), because you don’t get to play that much, but you get to learn a lot. He’s shown in a short amount of time that he’s a good player.”
Jackson is no Westbrook, but Dooling does see parallels in their playing styles. “Their games are similar: [they’re both] athletic, good with the ball, have size and can pull up.”
Nick Collison, who has been with both Westbrook and Jackson since their respective rookie seasons, also notices the similarities between the two. “They’re both guys that like to attack off the dribble, and both can make jump shots.”
In fact, taking and making more shots is one of the biggest reasons Jackson’s filled in so admirably for Westbrook.
Per NBA.com, Jackson is attempting nearly three more three-pointers in the playoffs (4.1) than he did the regular season (1.5), an uptick Jackson attributes to sharing more time on the court with Kevin Durant. “Playing with KD more, everybody’s collapsing, so I’m getting better looks,” says Jackson, who knows that knocking down those shots is key to taking pressure off Durant. “I have to continue to believe in myself and work on it.”
Collison is impressed with Jackson’s production as a starter, and attributes the second-year guard’s improvement to an increased comfort level within the team. “Early in their careers, it’s tough for all players that get limited minutes, especially point guards, to know exactly what to do. But he (Jackson) is a lot more comfortable. When he has chances to attack, he’s doing it. He’s pulling up or making the pass when it’s not there.”
The circumstances may not be ideal, but Jackson now has the opportunity to put those lessons learned observing Westbrook to use at time when the Thunder needs him the most. Says Collison: “It’s huge to lose Russell, but this has been huge for Reggie to be able to get time and experience. He’s really improved and we’re counting on him.”
Statistical support for this story provided by NBA.com