Reggie Jackson first entered the Thunder-Orlando game Sunday night with 3:03 left in the first quarter. Nick Collison, Steven Adams and Jeremy Lamb already had played at that point.
Jackson first entered the Thunder-Laker game Friday night with 2:11 left in the first quarter. Adams, Lamb and Perry Jones already had entered the game at that point.
Jackson first entered the Thunder-Memphis game Wednesday night with 2:29 left in the first quarter. Lamb, Adams and Collison already had played at that point.
Sixth man? More like ninth man.
The Thunder declared in the offseason that it would not try to replicate the role created by James Harden and filled last season by Kevin Martin – sixth man extraordinaire. Instead, the Thunder would use a more varied rotation.
And the Thunder was telling it straight. Jackson’s initial job is backup point guard.
But for whatever reason – and talent, via player development in Jackson’s case, is a good place to start – the sixth-man role rises to the top in OKC.
Jackson is averaging 12.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 24.8 minutes per game. His shooting efficiency (47.8 percent from the field) makes him a dynamite player.
Plus, Jackson’s defensive rankings are pristine.
Put it all together, and Jackson is the NBA’s top sixth man, at least here in mid-December, according to sheridanhoops.com, a solid NBA website run by former AP writer Chris Sheridan.
The website’s top five sixth men as of the weekend:
1. Reggie Jackson, OKC
2. Mo Williams, Portland
3. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio
4. Jamal Crawford, Clippers
5. Jeremy Lin, Houston.
Who would have thought the Thunder could retain its status as haven to a sixth man star?
Well, a few things go into it. First, the Thunder employs a defense-heavy starting lineup. With Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha in the starting lineup, the Thunder by acclimation does not trot out its five best all-around players to start the game. That means that unless the roster is gutted, a really good player is coming off the bench.
Also, Scotty Brooks’ rotation patterns give a sixth man a chance to shine. Brooks often will play without Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook on the floor. That means someone has to instigate offense, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that Jackson can instigate offense.
Finally, a point guard is an excellent option as sixth man. Offensive opportunities might open up with Westbrook and/or Durant on the floor – they draw a ton of defensive attention. But without the stars on the floor, the offense often might have to rely on a point guard’s ability to create. Jackson is a fabulous creator.
So presto! The Thunder has a premium sixth man.
Twenty-two games into the season, Jackson’s production is somewhere between Harden’s second and third seasons.
Using PER as a good measurement – player efficiency ratings, a complicated formula that accounts for every individual stat but does not delve much into defense – let’s compare Jackson and Harden.
Harden’s third season, the NBA Finals year of 2011-12, Harden’s PER was 21.1 That’s outstanding.
Durant’s was 26.2. Westbrook’s was 22.9. Serge Ibaka’s was 19.0.
Harden’s second season, the Western Conference Finals year of 2010-11, Harden’s PER was 16.4. And we all thought, rightfully so, that Harden was a wonderful player.
Jackson’s PER this season is 17.6.
What’s interesting about Jackson’s rise is that he’s not the lone soldier off the bench that Harden was.
In 2011-12, the PER for Thunder players after the big four were Collison 12.0, Nazr Mohammed 11.0, Sefolosha 9.8.
But so far in 2013-14, Lamb has a PER of 15.4, while Adams is at 14.0. The Thunder bench appears to be deeper than ever before.
Collison is Collison. Adams appears to be an upgrade over Mohammed, and if not, should be come playoff time, when the rookie from New Zealand will be more-seasoned.
The combination of Jackson/Lamb easily trumps the combination of Harden/Jackson or Harden/Derek Fisher – Jackson was the backup point guard most of the season; Fisher signed late and took over, though truthfully, Westbrook’s backup in those days was Harden himself.
Jackson and Lamb make a terrific off-the-bench duo. Led by Jackson, the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, in a season in which the Thunder tried not to even enter a candidate.