MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In between watching games from a spacious suite inside Chesapeake Energy Arena and rehabbing his right knee, Russell Westbrook has spent his time watching movies and tutoring teammates.
“Even though I'm out,” Westbrook said, “I still have a voice and I can help my team.”
Perhaps no player has been under Westbrook's tutelage more than his replacement, Reggie Jackson.
“Yeah, Coach Westbrook's done a good job,” Jackson joked. “Watching the game and observing, he's definitely on me a lot about pedal to the metal and just trying to make plays for others and myself and that will take the load off Kevin (Durant).”
We'll see how just how good of a Coach Westbrook is on Saturday afternoon.
Should he take Westbrook's advice and put the pedal to the metal, Jackson could emerge as a key player in Game 3 against the Memphis Grizzlies. Though he's been solid since stepping in as the starting point guard, Jackson has yet to tap into his offensive abilities in this series. The moment he does could become a turning point for the Thunder.
Turnovers and subpar rebounding were the main problems for Oklahoma City in Game 2. But the common denominator in each of the first two games was Durant had to carry the offensive load. In both games only one other player provided consistent scoring.
That's where Jackson comes in.
“He's one of the guys we have that can make a play for himself and can break down the defense,” said Thunder forward Nick Collison.
Jackson might be the only player other than Durant who can do those things.
The problem is he hasn't. Yet.
Jackson has averaged just 11 points against the Grizzlies. He's attempted only 16 shots.
In his first four games as Westbrook's replacement, Jackson averaged 17.3 points against Houston. He averaged 13.5 shots over that span, and Jackson's offensive contributions became a big factor in the Thunder making it out of that first-round series.
But Jackson hasn't asserted himself since Game 6, when he was brilliant and came three rebounds and two assists shy of a triple-double.
Of Jackson's 16 shot attempts, four have been 3-pointers. He's missed all four. Another three have come from 15 feet and beyond. Only five of Jackson's 16 field-goal attempts have come within five feet of the rim.
It's a trend the Thunder needs to see Jackson change. What he's best at — breaking down the defense, knifing his way into the painted area and either finishing plays or creating for others — he hasn't been doing in this series.
After attempting 36 percent of his shots from within five feet in the regular season, Jackson is down to 26 percent of his attempts coming from that same distance in the playoffs.
“He's a great finisher around the rim,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “It'd be nice for him to get some more paint opportunities and get to the free throw line because we can use that. We can use those extra possessions at the (foul) line.”
Because guard Kevin Martin continues to be inconsistent in this postseason, and forward Serge Ibaka has struggled with his shot, Jackson has to do more. When he doesn't, it puts even more pressure on Durant to be the primary ball-handler, scorer and facilitator for 40-plus minutes.
“I'm going to try to just get in the paint and make plays,” Jackson said. “That's kind of my role on this team with the abilities I have. So I just got to stay aggressive and pedal to the metal and just try to make plays.”
Memphis, however, has a much better defense than Houston did, and that might partially explain Jackson's drop off. Rather than being defended by Patrick Beverly and Aaron Brooks, Jackson is now being covered by Mike Conley and Tony Allen.
“He just has to play within what his capabilities are,” Scott Brooks said. If there's openings he has to attack. If he has that in transition, great. If he has it in the halfcourt, great. But I think he's better when he does attack.”