Confession time. This is the basic order of things that I look for during the first half of just about every Thunder game:
- Are the Thunder boxing out on defensive rebounds?
- Are the Thunder giving up corner 3-pointers?
- How many turnovers did the team have in the 1st quarter?
- How does Reggie Jackson and the Thunder bench look?
You might not recognize everybody in this video because it was taken from over two seasons ago, and it probably feels like that was the last time we actually saw OKC employ a full-court press in a non-end-game-crisis situation. Sometimes Russell Westbrook will break out his Deion Sanders-level one-man press, but for the most part, the team stays away from it. I asked DT's Royce Young if he had any immediate recollection, and he said, "I really don't remember another one where they actually used a traditional press. There have been games with added pressure, just not a 'press.'"
Which brings us back to Reggie Jackson, sitting over there on the bench looking stressed out, trying not to make mistakes or get yelled at. It isn't totally his fault of course; Jackson has landed into a very difficult position in being asked to replace super-sub Eric Maynor and run one of the top three benches in the NBA and basically not screw up a championship run. Unfortunately for Jackson, he isn't quite ready to do that yet. If you ask the basic question, "what is Jackson good at?" I'm not sure you come up with an answer. It isn't scoring (3.5 ppg, 33% from field), 3-point shooting (23.5%), assists (1.2 apg) or on-court performance (the only negative +/- of rotation players). He is not yet an impact player.
One of the biggest challenges for a head coach is how to utilize his role players so that he extracts the most out of them. Phil Jackson is one of the more underrated coaches in this regard; sure, he coached some of the greatest talent in NBA history, but he also had a remarkable way about getting the most out of players who hardly ever contributed anything else in any other situation they were in (See: Devon George, Brian Shaw, Luc Longley, Bobby Hansen, Stacy King). When I see Reggie Jackson not really excelling at anything, I see it as a dual function of his not playing well, but also because coach Scott Brooks has yet to put him in a situation where he can succeed.
The Celtics' Rajon Rondo missed eight games this season due to injury. During his time out and with the Celtics' season teetering, a 2nd year guard named Avery Bradley made the most of his opportunity. However, Bradley didn't do it by imitating Rondo, but by playing an aggressive defensive game that helped the C's to a 6-2 record while Rondo was out. Bradley committed to playing tough on-the-ball defense from baseline to baseline. In the Celtics' most dominant defensive effort of the season, beating Orlando 87-56 and holding the Magic to only 20 second-half points, Bradley demoralized the Magic PG. Bradley's PG counterpart Jameer Nelson became so frustrated with Bradley's pressure that Bradley said that Nelson begged him to back off:
"I looked at him and he kept telling me throughout the game... 'don't pick me up.' And that's when I knew that if I brought pressure, he didn't want nothing to do with it."