Kevin Martin stepped into James Harden’s role this season for the Thunder. Reggie Jackson stepped into Russell Westbrook’s role this posteason for the Thunder.
But Jackson next season might step into Harden’s/Martin’s role. If Martin doesn’t re-sign with the Thunder, the Thunder will be in need of a sixth man, which has become a critical position in OKC because of the team’s makeup. The Thunder sports a lineup of two spectacular offensive players (Kevin Durant and Westbrook), two defensive specialists (Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha, though Thabo’s offense has improved), and Serge Ibaka, who is a shot blocker extraordinaire but has become a solid offensive player, too.
It’s an incredibly effective starting unit that has been together 21/2 years and has had superb success both statistically and in on-court success. The Thunder this season ranked second in offensive efficiency and fourth in defensive efficiency. But such a lineup requires that a prolific scorer comes off the bench. In Harden’s two seasons since the Kendrick Perkins/Jeff Green trade, which changed the dynamic of the squad, he averaged 12.2 and 16.8 points per game. Martin this season averaged 14.0 points a game.
But if Martin doesn’t return, Jackson might become the sixth man. He’s the backup point guard, but that doesn’t mean much. In the 2012 playoffs, Harden in effect was the backup point guard. That didn’t preclude him from playing bunches of minutes with Westbrook, and Jackson could do the same. I think that will be the plan even if the Thunder settles on another sixth man, be it Martin or someone else.
And while I have no illusions that Jackson will turn into an all-star caliber player, like Harden did, I’m also not counting out Jackson for being the same kind of productive sixth man that Harden was. Here’s an example. Here are the stats for Harden’s first playoffs, the 2010 series against the Lakers, when Harden was a 20-year-old swingman growing into the sixth man role. And the stats for Jackson’s first playoffs, the 2013 serieses against the Rockets and Grizzlies, when Jackson is a 23-year-old thrust into the pressure of replacing Westbrook.
Player Season Age G MP FG% 3P% FT% REB AST TOV PTS
Harden 2009-10 20 6 20.0 .387 .375 .842 2.5 1.8 0.5 7.7 Jackson 2012-13 23 10 32.6 .481 .316 .893 4.1 4.5 0.6 13.7
A couple of things to consider. One, the minutes played. I know people don’t remember, but Harden as a rookie was occasionally special but often shaky. Against his hometown Lakers, he often was ineffective. Meanwhile, Jackson has been invaluable this postseason for the Thunder. He’s playing much more than did Harden three years ago. If you go by production by minute, Harden 2010 and Jackson 2013 are father close. Jackson still has better numbers, but close.
And the age difference is significant. The upside for a 20-year-old is much different from that of a 23-year-old. Jackson still has loads of potential, but he’d have much more if he was 21.
But still. Jackson seems to get better by the week. Sort of like Westbrook, the guy he’s replacing.
For the Wednesday Oklahoman, I wrote about the Harden trade to Houston. You can read that here. The Thunder is going through some adjustment without him. But the Thunder is well-positioned to fill the potential loss of Martin.
If Jackson became the Thunder’s sixth man, OKC would need some extra 3-point shooting. Harden shot just 31 percent from 3-point range as a rookie, but by his second and third seasons was much more effective. Jackson this season shot just 23 percent from 3-point range. He will get better, but it’s hard to go from 23 percent into Harden/Martin range.
That’s not a requirement for a sixth man. But it would require some other bench players to be able to sink the long ball. Sort of like Daequan Cook in seasons past. I don’t know if Derek Fisher will return; he’s certainly capable of filling that role. Perhaps Jeremy Lamb will be ready. The Thunder has some options.