Name: Reggie Jackson
Nickname: "October," "Better Basketball"
Reggie Jackson is an upcoming 2nd year player for the Thunder. Jackson was born in Pordenone, Italy, and grew up in Colorado. As a senior at Palmer High School, he won the 2007-08 Gatorade Colorado Boys' Basketball Player of the Year award. He played his college ball at Boston College, where in his 3 seasons there helped lead the team to two NCAA tournament appearances. As a junior, Jackson led the team in scoring with an 18.2 PPG average and was named to the All-ACC first team. Jackson left after his junior year and was drafted by the Thunder with the 24th pick in the first round.
After the Thunder drafted Jackson with a late 1st round pick, my initial thought on him was that he would be groomed to become the backup point guard after Eric Maynor left for more money. This is not a knock on Maynor's loyalty or anything; I just knew that I had seen enough of Maynor's game to know that we should not be surprised at all if another team came offering him more money and a starting job somewhere. Maynor certainly proved that he is capable of leading his own team, so I thought that the Thunder's drafting Jackson was merely a plan being put in place for that eventuality. It was to be a great situation - Jackson would become part of the youngest and most hard-working franchises in the league, he'd learn the ropes of guard play at the hands of Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor, and then when the time came for Maynor to move on, Jackson would be ready to step in.
What a difference a torn ACL makes, even when that player is your back-up PG.
Maynor's injury in the 9th game of the season set in motion a chain of events where Jackson had to step in and lead one of the best benches in the NBA with the simple instructions, "Don't screw up our championship run."
Regular Season Grade: C-
Jackson's mandate was simple, but the expectations placed on him were probably too great. How do you just step into a veteran backup PG role, play along side some of the best players in the league, be expected to coordinate one of the top offenses in the game, and not screw things up from time to time?
Unfortunately, that is what befell Jackson and it was, I must say, surprising given the history of this young team. When Durant and Westbrook first entered the league, Scott Brooks gave them the freedom they needed to learn on the fly how to win games. Brooks gave them just enough leeway where they could learn from the experience, but enough guidance to know how to keep things team-centric. I would think that the same lesson should have applied to Jackson, but instead we were witness to 3 months of Jackson looking extremely stressed out.
When Jackson was in charge of the offense he often had difficulty communicating with his teammates what he wanted them to do, and possessions got wasted where he just stood around dribbling the ball (actually, that's probably more of a team-wide problem, isn't it?). Other times when the offense ran through Durant or Harden, Jackson was relegated to being a spot-up jump shooter, and he is not very good at that yet either. So in total, Jackson was asked most often to do the two things he was least capable.
To contrast, the times when Jackson looked most comfortable was when he was given the freedom to just attack on offense. His early season jitters where he would make great forays to the rim only to miss the lay-up slowly gave way to attacking with conviction, and his confidence (and shooting percentage) improved. When Jackson was able to rely on his instincts instead of his understanding of offenses and defenses, his decision-making improved and he showed that he's actually a pretty solid rebounder at his size. It made me wonder why Brooks could not just limit Jackson's decision-making tree and simply put the kid in a position where he could rely on his talent and instincts.
As the 2012 trade deadline approached and Derek Fisher's name began to circulate, the writing was on the wall for Jackson. Despite his work in accepting the assignment that fell to him, it was clear that the team was not yet ready to entrust their championship run with the rookie PG. I think this was probably the correct decision, because as frustrated we were at times with Fisher's play, there is no question that Jackson would have been eaten alive by the Miami Heat defense.
In 2011-12, Jackson was willing but not quite ready. He did as best he could given his situation, but in the end had to give way to the team's overall mission.
Post-Season Grade: Incomplete
Jackson was deactivated for the playoffs, so he spent most of his time sitting on the bench wearing a suit and cheering on his teammates. Hopefully the intensity of the playoffs acted as an aphrodisiac for Jackson, and he will come out stronger and hungrier next season so that he can earn the chance to have his own moments in next season's playoffs.
Most Memorable Game:
Jackson's play was certainly uneven during his inaugural season, but there is no question that he showed some talent in his opportunities. While Jackson played some statistically good games during blowouts against the Spurs on Jan. 7th and the Bobcats on March 10th, I thought one of his best performances of the season came against the Denver Nuggets on March 15th.
The challenge for any young player who is trying to earn his keep is to play well when the game actually matters. There are plenty of bench guys in the league who can score 10 points in a 4th quarter rout, but how will that same player do during the key moments of a close game against a potential playoff opponent? Furthermore, the Nuggets play a blindingly quick brand of basketball where Ty Lawson is constantly pushing the pace. At such a speed it is easy or any player who is uncomfortable at making decisions at that pace to fall apart.
Reggie Jackson answered the call by providing a steady hand against the Nuggets' speed while the game was still close. He entered the game in the 1st quarter with the Thunder up by 3, and by the time he exited midway through the 2nd the lead had grown to 12. To be sure, the game is always easier when you're playing along side Durant and Harden, but Jackson's job is to make sure the ball is put in their hands at the right place and time, and he did that well, earning the trust of his teammates.
Jackson followed up his strong 1st half with and equally impressive 2nd. Entering the game at the end of the 3rd, Jackson remained on the floor for the remainder of the game as the Thunder pushed their lead to 20. During his time on the court, Jackson scored 5 points, grabbed 5 rebounds (3 offensive), handed out 4 assists, and did not commit a turnover. He kept the team moving along in the right direction, and when you're the backup PG, that's the most important job to do.
Most Memorable Single Moment:
Jackson has a sneaky kind of build in his physique, similar to Rajon Rondo. His first step isn't explosive, but Jackson can cover a lot of ground in a hurry and he then has extremely long arms that enable him to finish above the rim. Check out this slam over the Lakers:
Reggie Jackson is in a difficult place heading into next season because he is likely going to remain the 3rd string point guard. Even though Derek Fisher is not expected to be back in a Thunder uniform, Maynor's recovery appears to be on schedule, so Maynor will again be the backup PG for 2012-13. On top of that, Maynor has indicated that he would be willing to sacrifice some in the short term if it means that the team can keep its core together for multiple playoff runs. If Maynor holds true to his word, it is unlikely that Jackson is going to see meaningful minutes.
Of course, all this could change in a heartbeat if the Thunder endure injuries at the guard position. Nobody's health is guaranteed, Maynor is still in rehab, and shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha missed substantial time last season with a foot injury. Opportunity could still come knocking, so Jackson must be ready.
However, if that kind of opportunity does not come, it is going to be very difficult for Jackson to find meaningful minutes. Despite the fact that he has superior physical tools as compared to Maynor and has greater upside, Maynor still provides the perfect calming balance to starting PG Westbrook's supernova explosiveness and Maynor has earned coach Scott Brooks' trust.
My prediction for Jackson, unfortunate as it may be, is intertwined with Maynor's status on the team. If Maynor takes less money to stay with the Thunder, Jackson is going to have a very difficult time ever getting on the court when it matters. However, if Maynor decides to move on (or the Thunder decide they cannot afford to keep him), Jackson will be the answer. It probably isn't fair, but such is life in the NBA for a kid trying to crack the roster of a contender.
A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations
Other Player Grades: