“I think he's done a great job of understanding that position and understanding that role,” Brooks said. “But the last year was the big year for him. Even though he sat a lot toward the end, I think by playing when he did and also by watching he's picked up important lessons along the way.”
A couple of things stand out about Jackson when you watch him now. The first thing you notice is he's improved at orchestrating the offense. Last season, Jackson struggled getting the ball across half-court in the face of pressure. Now, he's playing with his dribble less and pushing the pace to initiate the offense faster.
“Definitely not playing with it as much,” Jackson said, laughing at the memory. “Eight seconds is a long time, but last year it wasn't long enough for me. I had a few eight-second calls thinking it was still college. Coach got on me about that last year. But definitely just knowing how to get a defender off you and get up the court and an understanding of what sets we might need to get into I think has helped.”
Jackson also is more decisive.
On high pick-and-rolls, Jackson makes up his mind and goes. No longer does Jackson over-dribble, or over-think, while waiting for something to develop. He now puts pressure on the defense by making something happen.
His court vision has also improved. He's finding the open man more frequently, whether on drive and kicks or skip passes.
“I think when you have another year under your belt just playing it's kind of natural you get a little better,” said Westbrook. “You know the game a lot better, the speed. You get to play at your own pace. It's easier for you.”
Defensively, Jackson has grown as well.
Though he struggled at times to stay in front of Lin in the second half, Jackson is expected to get better as he plays opponents more often and learns their tendencies. For now, he's displaying qualities of being a willing defender and using his length to pester guards all over the court.
“He's talented. He's as talented as any guy we have on our team,” Brooks said. “He's a strong, athletic guard that can get to the paint. He can create his own shot. I thought he did a great job of facilitating the offense and getting guys easy points (Wednesday). I see improvements every day with him.”