Reggie Jackson can't get the number six off his mind.
“Game 6,” he said.
That ship unfortunately has sailed for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City lost to Memphis in five games in the second round, and with that next season starts now.
From this point on, Jackson, the team's backup point guard, would be better served contemplating a different meaning for the number six.
“If that's the number that's called,” Jackson said, “I'm doing my best to just be ready for whatever situation I'm thrown into next year.”
Going into his third season, Jackson projects to receive a much larger role.
He proved in this postseason that he's earned it.
After sporadic playing time as a rookie, Jackson was named the primary backup to Russell Westbrook in late December. He was steady in that role and became something close to spectacular when forced to fill in for an injured Westbrook three games into the playoffs.
Jackson averaged 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and only 1.9 turnovers in 33.5 minutes during this year's postseason. He shot 47.9 percent in 11 games, nine as the starter.
Making his performance all the more impressive was that Jackson was just a spectator in last year's postseason, forced to watch every game from the bench while wearing a bow tie.
“When Russell went down, I thought Reggie did a great job filling in,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I'm excited about his future, about what he was able to do during the minutes that he had.”
Suddenly, everybody seems to be. Teammates can't stop raving about Reggie.
The last 11 games seemed to provide a glimpse into the future.
With guard Kevin Martin's contract set to expire, and the Thunder most likely having to let him walk due to financial constraints, Jackson just might become the team's newest sixth man next season.
Because the Thunder will be over the salary cap, the team won't have the resources to pay a replacement for Martin through free agency. Meanwhile, all available exceptions, such as the mid-level exception, would only sink the Thunder deeper into the increasingly punitive tax threshold.
That means the Thunder's approach this offseason could be addition by development.
After two seasons of trials and tribulations, Jackson has emerged as the most prepared player to step into what's long been a featured role for the Thunder.
“I think Reggie gained a lot of confidence in this playoff series,” said Thunder center Kendrick Perkins. “I thought he stepped up. He played well. He learned a lot of things on what to do and what not to do. I thought his decision-making was pretty good. If I had to give him a grade, the way it happened and how he had to just step in, I'd have to give him an A. I thought he did a great job.”
Following the conclusion of the series, Jackson garnered praise from multiple Memphis Grizzlies — including All-Defensive selections Marc Gasol and Tony Allen — for being a better player than they thought. Their words served as validation for Jackson. Nothing more. Nothing less.
“It let's you know you left somewhat of an imprint,” Jackson said.
But Jackson's success certainly hasn't seemed to go to his head. He said he wants to return “humble, hungry and ready to learn.” He downplayed any and all talk of additional playing time and possibilities of joining the conversation for postseason accolades such as the Most Improved Player award or Sixth Man award.
“I set goals to just do what's best for the team each year,” Jackson said. “My only goal is to win a championship. That's how you measure greatness. Even the ones who come before, no matter what accolades they have before, I think you all hear they wish they could go back and get a championship. That's all that matters.”
That's the maturity teammates see in Jackson that make them think the best is yet to come.
“It says a lot about who Reggie is and what he is going to be able to do as he continues to learn and grow and understand how to continue to get better,” said Thunder guard Derek Fisher. “Think about a guy that hadn't played much at all and essentially almost in a rookie season even though it was his second year, to do the things that he was able to do on the court, I think it is a testament to his work ethic and to his level of professionalism.”