If Reggie Jackson interviewed with me for a job opening, I’d hire him on the spot.
And you would, too.
Talk to the rookie point guard for 12 minutes, as a small group of reporters did at the Thunder’s media day last month, and you’d be floored by the manner in which the 24th overall pick out of Boston College carries himself. His oozes confidence, so much so that it’s easy to mistake his self-assuredness for arrogance or cockiness. But that’s just Jackson. And even as a 21-year-old newbie to the NBA, Jackson is beginning his career beaming with that same self-belief.
“Continue to just try and be a leader, no matter my age or years in the league compared to anybody else’s,” Jackson stated as somewhat of a personal mission. “I’ve always been a vocal leader. I’ve always been very confident and I plan on remaining that way.”
He’ll need to now.
With Eric Maynor out for the year after tearing up his knee Saturday at Houston, Jackson must now step in as the team’s backup to Russell Westbrook. The truth of the matter is the Thunder has avoided the risky proposition of entrusting its primary reserve point guard role to a rookie. Prior to Maynor and his super steady hand coming to town midway through the year two seasons ago and lodging a wedge in the revolving door of reserves, the organization made it a point to backup Westbrook with experience, guys like Earl Watson, Chucky Atkins, Shaun Livingston and Kevin Ollie.
Maynor was special, even as a rookie, and Jackson must fill his shoes. But it’s a job Jackson appears ready for. His makeup suggests he won’t shrink in the moment. Take, for instance, his response to one reporter’s question about making it to the NBA and fulfilling a dream.
“I’ve always dreamed big,” Jackson started. “I don’t feel like my dream was just to get into the NBA. I feel like that’s just a step. It’s a requirement of my dream. My dream always has been to be one of the best point guards to ever play the game. And it doesn’t mean statistically. But I feel like to be one of the best players you have to win day in and day out. And at the end of the day, only one team can win it all. And hopefully I can help this organization rack a bunch of Ws up and bring home a bunch of titles.”
Typically, when a rookie starts talking that tough the natural reaction is to roll your eyes. But then you keep listening and you realize the rook might just be wise beyond his years. And if nothing else, you certainly learn that his maturity will make life easier on him. By the time you hear Thunder coach Scott Brooks rave about Jackson’s work ethic, marveling at how he might spend too much time in the gym, you start to become a believer in Jackson, too.
When Jackson attended the team’s voluntary mini-camps this summer, he teamed up with Kevin Durant and studied plays. When Jackson missed most of training camp with a groin injury and a lower abdominal strain, he said the toughest thing for him was staying off the floor. Both illustrate Jackson’s dedication to and love for the game.
It quickly becomes evident how selfless Jackson is. When asked about his personal goals and expectations coming into this season, Jackson’s response was rich with sacrifice.
“My personal goals going into this season are to raise the statistics of my teammates,” Jackson said. “I really don’t care what I do. I’m not somebody that’s putting a high value on points or even assists. Hockey assists are cool with me, as long as I swing the ball and somebody else gets involved. If I hit Russell and Russell hits Kevin (Durant) for an open 3, it’s not going to go down in my stats but it’s definitely going to go down in my memory bank. It’s just all about helping this team, taking pressure off Russell and just the team in general.”
“I remember being asked why I didn’t finish a breakaway dunk that I could have had at Kevin Durant’s charity game,” Jackson said. “It was all about getting him going. I saw he had a tough start. Like I said, I’m always thinking win. I knew I wasn’t going to be the guy that people were going to throw the ball and say ‘Go ahead and get you a quick eight points.’ I knew the only chance was to get him going so why not get him an easy basket. That’s what I plan to do here, just get everybody open looks and hopefully they get great shots.”
Jackson talks often about how he wants to help Westbrook. His words imply leadership and briefly make you forget which player is the All-Star and which is the rookie.
“Even though Russell is older than me, I’m still trying to help him with his maturation,” Jackson said. “I realize he’s played 2-guard his whole life. But he’s definitely one of the best point guards in the league. His athletic ability and just his ability to score and what we demand of him as an organization and a team, sometimes he doesn’t get to be just the pure point guard. He really has to score. So hopefully I can come in and help him out with his responsibilities.”
When Jackson lights up with talk of defense, you know he’ll be a great fit. He wants to pick up 94 feet. He wants to be a nag all night. That explosiveness you’ve seen on YouTube? Jackson insists it will come in play more on the defensive end than the offensive.
“Defensively, I think that’s where I can help more athletically,” Jackson said. “I’ve never been afraid to challenge somebody at the rim. I don’t know why, but I think that’s the best. If I see somebody’s going for a dunk, if I have my footsteps down right, I’m definitely going to attempt to go get it. I think that’s where more people will see my athleticism rather than always on offense.”
Like what you hear yet?