HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Reggie Jackson played quite well in last year’s playoffs after parachuting from a 14-minute-a-night sub to a 33-minute-a-night starting point guard in the heat of the playoffs. He said the experience eased any self doubt that he could play in the NBA.
Then came this season’s emergency call-up to the starting lineup after Christmas when Russell Westbrook underwent a third knee surgery. Of the 27 games Westbrook missed, the Thunder won 20. Kevin Durant built his MVP case, but not without the assistance of Jackson, 23, who, while averaging 14.8 points and boasting a 2-to-1 turnover-to-assist ratio, discovered an even higher level of self-confidence.
“I learned that I belong and that I can do this, and,” Jackson told NBA.com last Sunday, “I think I can lead a team.”
Perhaps Jackson is thinking his future can one day mirror that of James Harden. For now, the 6-foot-3, third-year guard out of Boston College can apply his speed and aggressiveness as a a pivotal piece in landing the Thunder back in the NBA Finals.
Just when it seemed his 28.6 mpg would be cut back with Westbrook’s return, starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha is now slated to miss up to six weeks with a calf injury. Center Kendrick Perkins is also out potentially more than a month after undergoing groin surgery last week. Making due without two-fifths of your starting lineup heading down the stretch isn’t typically a good thing heading into the final quarter of the season.
But for the Thunder, it provides coach Scott Brooks an intriguing opportunity to tinker with various lineups, including smaller, quicker, hyper-aggressive units that have thrived in short bursts. One in particular featuring Durant, Westbrook and Jackson with power forward/center Serge Ibaka and then whomever Brooks chooses, deserves more run.
“I think we can be very effective, very scary if we figure things out and figure out how to implement all of us playing together versus necessarily just one-on-one,” Jackson said of joining Durant and Westbrook. “We’re trying to figure out a way to be cohesive and get things done together. We can be virtually unstoppable on offense and also cause a bunch of havoc on defense.”
The trio is long, lean, fast and off-the-charts athletic. Defensively, they have the ability to swarm the perimeter, jump passing lanes, deflect balls and get out and run. Offensively, all three can attack the basket. Durant is the greatest outside threat, but all three possess a mid-range game and can knock down the 3-pointer.
Their floor time together this season has only come in spurts. In 25 games together up to Christmas (Westbrook’s final game before surgery), the trio played 206 minutes, just 8.3 mpg on average, and put up supersonic numbers: 20.4 ppg on 48.9 percent shooting from the floor and 38.1 percent from beyond the arc, plus a 63.6 assist percentage; of 511 total points, 84 came off turnovers and 94 on fastbreaks.
Their offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) was 117.2 with a pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes) of 101.6 that was much higher than the team’s overall pace of 97.66. Meanwhile, their defensive rating was a stingy 93.2.
In the last five games together since Westbrook’s return, their time together again has been limited (49 total minutes) but just as potent with an offensive rating of 124.4 and a 61.4 assist percentage; their defensive rating has been 98.1. Of 125 total points, 40 have come off turnovers.
In Sunday’s 116-99 win against a good defensive Charlotte Bobcats team, Durant, Westbrook and Jackson played together for less than five minutes.
But it was explosive.
It was the first game without Sefolosha and Brooks went to 6-10 Perry Jones as the starter, apparently to allow Jackson to get comfortable again coming off the bench as Westbrook’s primary replacement. Durant, Westbrook and Jackson didn’t join forces until the 7:27 mark of the fourth quarter. Westbrook replaced Jeremy Lamb between Jackson free throws. Jackson made both to put OKC up 96-89.
Over the next four minutes, 31 seconds, Westbrook, Derek Fisher, Jackson, Durant and Ibaka outscored the Bobcats 16-3 for a 112-92 lead with 2:56 to go. They held Charlotte to 1-for-6 shooting with four turnovers, including a 24-second violation. Jackson scored four points on two driving layups and he had a steal. Durant had four points, Ibaka had five and Westbrook nailed a 3-pointer. Fisher came up with two steals.
“It’s about playing together, having sets, plays drawn up and then having a mindset that we’re going to play together,” Jackson said. “We’ll figure those things out and we have  games to do so.”
Jackson’s right. That could be scary.