SALT LAKE CITY — Scott Brooks pulled the first shocker of the night.
In the Thunder's exhibition opener against Houston, the coach summoned Reggie Jackson as the first point guard off the bench, opting for the second-year man over the more experienced, and fully healed, Eric Maynor.
Soon, Jackson pulled his own surprise, snatching the primary backup minutes and capitalizing on them so much that he walked out of State Farm Arena as the game's second-best guard behind only Russell Westbrook.
Mind you, in addition to Maynor, who made his debut in the second half, the game also featured “Linsanity,” or simply Jeremy Lin, and Kevin Martin, the Rockets starting backcourt.
But it was Jackson's improved leadership that gave him a leg up. He scored four points with five assists, one rebound and one steal in 16 minutes. Yet as is typical with Jackson, he was his toughest critic.
“Three turnovers,” he said, still forced to shake his head at himself a day later. “I'd like a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.”
No one else is complaining.
After a turbulent rookie season that inundated him with a lockout, a shortened season, injuries, an unexpected promotion and a deflating demotion, Jackson has now positioned himself to be a more consistent contributor.
Last week, Brooks raised eyebrows when he announced that the backup point guard position is an open competition between Jackson and Maynor. It was a statement largely written off as a motivational tactic designed to promote competition. But after one strong game, on the heels of nearly two weeks of encouraging practices, Jackson continues to prove he belongs.
“I feel slightly more comfortable, (but) not as comfortable as I did in the summer league. I want to get to that point,” Jackson explained. “But definitely more comfortable than when I came in last year as a rookie. So I think that's another progression of my game.”
Jackson has repeatedly credited his participation in the Orlando Pro Summer League with restoring his confidence. He was far and away the star of the Thunder's team and finished the five-games-in-five-days stretch as one of the most dominant players in Orlando.
That week in central Florida was the first time we experienced the real Reggie Jackson, his confidence, his explosiveness, his entire arsenal. Surrounded by mostly fringe NBA players, Jackson was able to shine. It was his team and he did a masterful job leading it.
Jackson is showing the same skills now that he displayed in July.