When Sam Presti decided to trade away James Harden for a rental car (Kevin Martin), a concept car (Jeremy Lamb) and a pick that ended up being a foreign model (Steven Adams), it reeked of desperation. Presti wasn’t willing to wait and let Harden play out his final season with the Thunder because the pill of letting Harden walk away without receiving anything in return was too much for Presti to swallow, so he panicked. He picked the big man (Serge Ibaka) and traded the eighth or ninth best player in the league for twenty cents on the dollar.
It’s easy to crush Presti for this decision, but it’s also really easy to look over the decision to select Reggie Jackson with the 24th overall pick in the 2011 Draft. The odds of finding a solid contributor outside of the lottery aren’t very good; the odds of finding a player capable of replacing The Beard are astronomical.
I’m not trying to infer that Reggie Jackson is on the same level of the 2011-12 version of James Harden. We were seeing flashes of the player Harden would eventually morph into (outside of his shitty defensive efforts in Houston, but hey at least he’s at least been trying in the other aspect of game lately). It was only a matter of time before Harden outgrew the sixth man role and became a starter. Scott Brooks knew this, but he realized that there were two other giant mouths to feed on the offense, if Harden was going to be as effective as he possibly could, being the leader of the second unit was the optimal spot for him.
Reggie Jackson isn’t James Harden, it’s safe to say he will never on the same pedestal that Harden is on right now, but Reggie Jackson has taken over the role that Harden once filled in Oklahoma City and he’s better served for the role than Harden ever was. Harden was far more advanced when he was torching opposing second units and combining forces with Westbrook and Durant to create a finishing trio that was flat out frightening, but when you watch Jackson take the floor with Durant he understands his role, he understands when he has to take his shot in order to try and open up the floor for Durant, but he also understands when he should defer to Durant.
Hmmm when have we complained about someone not deferring to Durant in crunch time? Nah, the basketball community never complains about a certain someone “stealing” crunch time shots and possessions from one of the two favorites to win the MVP award……
In some ways Jackson feels like a more suitable replacement for Harden and in other ways he feels like a much more athletic and just overall better version of Eric Maynor.
If you don’t remember Maynor and I can’t blame you if you don’t, he was once the backup point guard for the Thunder whose claim to fame was delivering in the fourth quarter of Game 2 in the 2011 Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. Brooks benched Westbrook for being a detriment to the team thanks to his out of control play and inserted the floor general Maynor, who did an admiral job in replacing Westbrook. Maynor would tear his ACL in January of the following season and his time as a member of the Thunder would come to an end as he was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers just before the trade deadline of the 2012-13 season.
Jackson is a much better basketball player than Maynor, but it’s worth remembering Maynor in order to remember that when Scott Brooks thinks there is a better option on the bench, he isn’t afraid to sit a star player. You can criticize Brooks all you want for some of his rotations (please go ahead, I’m begging you, remember this was the guy who couldn’t figure out how to get Serge Ibaka at least 30 minutes a night in the 2011-12 season), but the guy understands how to play his x-factor when his biggest opponent is on the schedule.
If the Thunder is going to make an appearance in the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons, they’re most likely going to have to make it through San Antonio in the conference finals. This certainly seems doable as the Thunder have now won 10 of their last 12 games against the Spurs (OKC swept the season series 4-0), including the 106-94 victory that snapped San Antonio’s 19-game winning streak.
In the four victories against the Spurs Reggie Jackson has been an integral part of the proceedings:
Russell Westbrook was present for three of those contests (he missed the game in January as he was recovering from one of his 235823 knee injuries):
The November game was a classic “this is why I hate Russell Westbrook game.” The other two were “this is why the Thunder need Russell Westbrook games.” Jackson filled the void left by the absence of Westbrook in the January game, but also capitalized on his opportunities in the other three contests.
After the Thunder ended the Spurs 19-game winning streak, Gregg Popovich was asked about Reggie Jackson’s performances against his team this year he laughed and said “Well, I’m glad we could get him back on track.” Sarcastic Pop is awesome, but something tells me if Jackson plays this type of game against the Spurs multiple times in May, Pop won’t be answering questions about Reggie Jackson with a smile.
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