Has Reggie Jackson Supplanted Eric Maynor?
Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks was upfront about the battle for the backup point guard position prior to the start of the 2012-13 NBA season. Second-year and unproven Reggie Jackson would be pitted against the typically reliable, yet returning-from-injury Eric Maynor. With both presenting unique risks, Brooks has evaluated the players over the first 28 games (22-6 record) this year. Though he hasn’t verbalized his decision, actions seem to speak louder than words.
Maynor hasn’t logged any playing time in the past three games while Jackson has averaged 16.2 minutes as the backup to starting point guard, Russell Westbrook, in those three games. This comes on the heels of a two-game stint in the NBA’s Development League (Tulsa 66ers) wherein Jackson killed it, averaging 32 points, seven assists and eight rebounds in 37.5 minutes. He was so outstanding that the D-League named him Performer of the Week for games played Dec. 17-23.
Granted, he’s certainly not playing alongside of NBA All-Stars like Kevin Durant or Westbrook in Tulsa, but the experience gained is aiding in his confidence and in his understanding of the position.
“Just playing down there is giving me confidence,” Jackson told HOOPSWORLD. “Playing well down there and being able to start down there and just kind of organizing everybody from the one has really helped me understand. Slowly but surely I’m understanding how long 24 seconds really is, even if you don’t necessarily get a play, just directing guys.
“Of course, you want to get some movement,” he added. “You want to get a play going, you want to get your shot, but definitely with ten seconds, you can still organize the floor and get pick-and-rolls or the ball can move from side to side a few times.
“I think that’s the biggest thing for my confidence is just being aware of the clock, being aware of just controlling guys and how confident you are and how as long as you’re level-headed and just playing the game at your pace, how everybody kind of responds to you.”
Time after time, we’ve seen how useful the D-League can be for NBA teams. No longer considered a demotion, teams can send certain players there while rehabilitating from injury, to get playing time or to develop their own players. In fact, 112 current NBA players have Development League experience. Eight have been called up this year with dozens on the cusp.
“It’s a great opportunity that we have when we’re allowed to send guys down as much as you can now, one-through-three-year players up in Tulsa,” Brooks said. “It helps when you get playing time. He (Jackson) hasn’t played much to start this year. It’s just the way it is. It’s hard to play your entire team, but Tulsa gives us the opportunity to go down there and work on what we need to be worked on.”
While Jackson’s stats have remained relatively consistent (2.3 points, 1.4 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 7.6 minutes this year vs. 3.1 points, 1.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 11.1 minutes last season), his key shooting percentages have increased measurably. He explained to us in basic terms the reason for the increases.
“Just taking shots that’s open. I just definitely want to cut back on bad shots, figure it out. Just being more aggressive. I think that’s really helped me, getting back to the belief that I can beat my man every time, (and) getting everybody else involved.
“Basketball is a game of mismatches,” Jackson continued. “And I believe that’s what a point guard does. In my mind, I think I’ve shortened my own playbook, which has helped me just play basketball. Just free-flowing, but definitely pick out mismatches and get guys going when they can, if need be, when things aren’t going well. Knowing when I have mismatches myself. I think that’s just an accumulation of the things that I’ve learned during my time so far.”
What about the future? Maynor has not returned to his prior form; one can only assume his season-ending knee injury – just nine games into the 2011-12 season – has contributed to his decreased quickness. His defense is questionable, his numbers are down and he’s posting a career-low 8.2 Player Efficiency Rating.
Maynor is playing his final contract year with the Thunder (with a qualifying offer available in 2013-14); the widely-held belief is the organization held back on offering an extension to see how he returned after the injury. In the meantime, the Thunder picked up Jackson’s third-year team option in October.
“It was a good feeling, especially feeling like somebody wants you around,” Jackson told us. “They don’t have to do it. You see some situations where people aren’t doing as much, so just for them to pick up that third year team option, it meant a lot to me.”
Brooks is mum on the subject of whether or not Jackson has permanently won the backup job.
“Reggie’s going to give us some games,” he said. “I don’t know how many. Who knows? We want him to pressure the ball and use his athleticism and make good decisions on offense, but we’re going to give him some games.
“Eric has to be ready like all of our guys,” Brooks said. “It’s one the things when you have a good team. You have guys that don’t play and they probably deserve to play, but you can’t play all of them.”
Maynor has seen the positive effect of the D-League experience on players though he has never played there himself.
“It helps them get some minutes, especially if they’re not playing,” he shared. “Helps them get minutes and get comfortable just playing. I think that’s the main thing, going down there and just playing and running up and down and playing in a real-game system.”
As for Jackson, Maynor has witnessed his confidence soaring of late.
“Yeah, absolutely,” answered Maynor. “I think the thing is, that’ll (D-League experience) do that. For not just him, anybody that’s down there.”
Even though Jackson has been inserted as Westbrook’s backup in the past three games, he sounded a bit unclear when asked what he believes Brooks is looking for from him in the long-term.
“(I’m) not really sure. Whether I play or not, just try to stay ready and then best situation I get in, have some more freedom to push up and be aggressive, just try to disrupt the ball. Hopefully try to get a few steals. That’s a big focal point for me and then just playing my game after that.”
“We’re pretty consistent in what we do,” he continued. “Two great point guards, Eric Maynor and then Russell, so things happen how they happen. Every time I step out onto that court, I try to play with confidence the way I’ve grown up doing, just play ball.”
All this talk of new-found confidence brought to mind the words he told us right before embarking on his NBA career. Speaking about his goals, Jackson said, straight-faced, that he aimed to be the best NBA player to play the game. We inquired if he still held that goal now that he has logged over one year of playing in the league.
“If I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t be playing,” Jackson answered, adding his confidence is “sky high” right now.
“That’s just how I am. If I lose that desire, to work hard, to be the best, then I’m just going to have to call it quits.”
The 6’3 point guard ranks among the most direct players in interviews, always answering questions thoughtfully.
“I’m here in the league trying to be the best, one day hopefully be the best. That’s what I strive for. I’m really comfortable and confident in my abilities. I practice hard. I train hard. I do drills hard. I can only make or miss a shot, turn it over and make a good play. It’s a simple game. Not too much can happen.”
He talks about the “very small circle of people” that gets him through the ups and downs in his new career and offers invaluable support.
“They like to tell me and let me know that at the end of the day if basketball doesn’t work out, I’ve still got that love,” Jackson said. “It’s just a game, and that’s how I try to approach it.”
Brooks may or may not come right out say Jackson has the job going forward, but it certainly appears he has nabbed it.