The Oklahoma City Thunder has been spoiled over the years by the expert drafting of general manager Sam Presti. Since he took over player personnel decisions for the Thunder in 2007, Presti has been fantastic at finding hidden gems late in the draft. His keen sense of which players will develop into NBA starters has led to the creation of a young dynasty. With his smart signings, the Thunder have had a significant amount of success with a strong scoring punch coming off of the bench in a sixth man role.
James Harden was the perfect fit for this role. Drafted third overall in 2009, Harden developed into one of the game’s premier playmakers and won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2012 while averaging 16.8 points per game. Unfortunately, Presti may have drafted too well. Harden developed so rapidly that the Thunder could no longer afford to keep him, and traded him to Houston in exchange for draft picks, Jeremy Lamb, and Kevin Martin. Martin, who was accustomed to a starting role, stepped into the sixth man role, where he averaged 14 points per game.
With Martin’s departure to Minnesota to reclaim a starting role, the Thunder had no clear sixth man role entering this season. After their high scoring duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, there was no consistent scorer on the roster. With lots of young talent on the roster, the team expected someone to step up. Third year point guard Reggie Jackson seems to have filled that void.
Drafted 24th overall in 2011 out of Boston College, Jackson has steadily developed into a fantastic player who is very fun to watch. The Thunder trusted his development so much that they were willing to trade incumbent backup point guard Eric Maynor to the Portland Trail Blazers in February of 2013. Jackson received a large increase in minutes as Westbrook’s backup and did not disappoint.
The combination of the loss of Martin in the offseason and Westbrook’s playoff injury led to a starting role to begin the season. Jackson started off well and, since Westbrook’s return, has not looked back. His averages have increased from his previous seasons to the point where teams have inquired about his availability in trades to take on a more permanent starting role.
Through their first 15 games, Jackson is averaging 11.1 points, 3.7 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game, up from his averages of 5.3 points, 1.7 assists, and 2.4 rebounds last season. He has also seen his playing time jump from 14.2 to 23.6 minutes per game.
In Sunday’s game against the Timberwolves, Jackson chipped in 18 points, five rebounds, and four assists off of the bench in 24 minutes of play. In their win over the Spurs, he chipped in 23 points in 26 minutes. He has cemented his status as the sixth man in coach Scott Brooks’ rotation, and is poised to make an impact on the Thunder’s playoff run.
Just as Harden and Martin before him, though, Jackson’s success may be bad news long term for the Thunder. If he develops at this pace over the season, the Thunder may not be able to afford to keep him when his rookie contract expires. After Sunday’s game, Kevin Martin spoke about Jackson, stating that “he’s a young guy who developed into a good player in this league. Reggie’s one of my favorite young guys in this league. He goes to work every day, and he’s a great backup to Russ, but he’s definitely a starter in this league”.
Aside from the fact that Martin really enjoys the phrase “in this league”, he also makes a good point about Jackson’s work habits. Jackson is known for staying up late just dribbling a basketball to improve his ball handling skills and has absorbed every bit of knowledge he can pick up from Durant and Westbrook. Like Martin said, it is easy to see him as a starter in the NBA for a team in need of a point guard. When his contract expires, Reggie Jackson will have to make the same decision that Harden and Martin made. Will he take less money to stay in a sixth man role on a title contender, or take his money and start for a different team? Harden and Martin have made their decisions. In a bit more than a year’s time, it will be Jackson’s turn to make his.
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