Reggie Jackson has turned in two straight excellent games for the Thunder. One as the starting point guard (Monday night against Denver) and one after Russell Westbrook limped off the court (Friday night at Toronto), leaving Jackson to take over the rest of the second half and both overtimes.
That’s very good news for the Thunder. Because in truth, Jackson had been more efficient coming off the bench rather than starting.
Jackson has made 33 starts in Westbrook’s absence. Which means Jackson has come off the bench 37 times. Here is the statistical breakdown:
Minutes played: 31:21 starting, 26:28 off the bench.
Scoring: 14.2 starting, 12.5 off the bench.
Field-goal percentage: .426 starting, .449 off the bench.
3-point percentage: .322 starting, .351 off the bench.
Foul shooting: .823 starting, .962 off the bench.
Rebounds: 3.6 starting, 4.1 off the bench.
Assists: 5.1 starting, 3.2 off the bench.
Turnovers: 2.7 starting, 1.8 off the bench.
Obviously, Jackson is playing more as a starter — about five minutes a game more, so his numbers should be up a little in games he has started. But his efficiency is down as a starter. Jackson shoots better from the field, from distance, from the foul line.
When you factor in production per minute, Jackson’s scoring is actually pretty even. But his shooting is much better coming off the bench, while his quarterbacking (assists, turnovers) is better as a starter.
Part of the assist factor is playing more minutes with Kevin Durant. Play with KD, and your numbers will go up.
But to me, it seems clear that Jackson as a starter is more focused as a traditional point guard. Trying to get teammates involved. Trying to be the floor leader that Westbrook is.
When Jackson’s role is coming off the bench, either to play sidekick to Westbrook or to run the B team, then Jackson plays more freely. More shots, more success with the shots. Jackson’s 3-point shooting is remarkably better when he doesn’t start — .351 to .322. His foul shooting is much better. Jackson has missed just three foul shots all season during games in which he didn’t start.
I think some of that can be attributed to relaxing. Jackson doesn’t feel the weight of the world on his shoulders when Westbrook starts. When Jackson has to start, as we saw in the 2013 playoffs and occasionally this season, he seems to be carrying a burden.
But Jackson has been playing better, as if he’s growing accustomed to directing this team. That’s a good sign for the Thunder, since Scotty Brooks has promised to sit Westbrook several more games this regular season.