Reggie Jackson just keeps on getting better.
But for all of his improvements, the second year point guard's ability to make an impact in crunch time is what really piques your interest about his potential.
Jackson scored eight of his 13 points off the bench in the fourth quarter Sunday against New York, playing all 12 minutes of the period and proving once again that he's virtually impossible to keep out of the paint. On multiple occasions, Jackson would use ball screens to jet by Knicks guard Raymond Felton before beating reigning Defensive Player of the Year and towering center Tyson Chandler with crafty layups.
Let's just say it had the look and feel of something — someone — Oklahoma City used to know.
Now, with the playoffs less than two weeks away, it's come time to ask the question of whether Jackson is ready to carry over his effectiveness into the postseason? It seems every year there is an unheralded player that emerges in the playoffs. And after sitting on the sidelines in a bow tie throughout last year's run to the NBA Finals, only time will tell whether Jackson can become the league's next breakout performer.
“If that's what it comes to,” Jackson said. “I just try to be a playmaker, defensively, offensively and just get the right shots. If that's what happens this year then I'll be grateful. But I'm just trying to help this team win and reach our ultimate goal.”
The Thunder is 22-9 when Jackson plays at least 15 minutes, and, by and large, he's excelled in those opportunities. In those 31 games, Jackson has averaged 7.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 48.9 percent shooting. It's all-around production that has earned Jackson a few additional stints but left many wondering what he could do with even more.
“Being a point guard is not just taking it to the basket and scoring around the basket,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “You got to know who's hot and who's not hot, what the coach wants, the time, the score and he's done a good job of getting better at those areas. But it takes time.”
Jackson has been a boost to a bench unit that has been forced to redefine itself this season. He's also added a third ball-handler alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant who can create for himself and others.
But the playoffs are an entirely different beast.
Jackson has yet to play a single second of postseason basketball and there is no telling how the magnitude of the moment might affect him.
“I expect one heck of an experience,” Jackson said, seemingly unfazed at the thought.
He said he will manage the playoffs the same way he has managed the season. That includes playing relaxed and not putting pressure on himself to be perfect, something he has admitted to doing as a rookie.
“It's definitely a challenging position being a backup point guard,” Brooks said. “And in the playoffs we know everything is magnified. But I think he's done a good job of putting himself in the position to get better.”
Jackson won't have to look far for advice should he need it. His backcourt mate, Kevin Martin, was in the same position that Jackson is now. Like Jackson, Martin played only 45 games as a rookie. But he was called into action in the playoffs as a second-year player with Sacramento. Martin played six games in the 2006 playoffs, starting one, and averaged 13.2 points and five rebounds in 32.8 minutes.
“I think pressure is what you make of it,” Martin said. “To me, it was just another basketball game. I really didn't look into it too deep. You just go out there and play your game.”
That's what Jackson will try to do.
“I'm just ready to go and have fun, play and compete each game,” he said. “I'm just trying to get better. Whatever it takes for my team to win I'm just going to try to help them out and do my part.”