Reggie Jackson went high in the air and hauled in a defensive rebound with 37 seconds remaining in the opening quarter Tuesday at Miami. When he landed, he quickly surveyed the court.
To his right was Russell Westbrook. Taking off in front of him was Kevin Martin.
Jackson had a decision to make: pass it to one of his go-to scoring options, or initiate the offense himself. Without hesitation, he settled on the latter, scooting up court with five dribbles before tossing up a floater while getting fouled on the play.
Only four seconds elapsed off the game clock, preserving a pivotal two-for-one scoring opportunity for the Thunder.
“Last year, I definitely didn't have the confidence to do that,” Jackson said.
Meet the new and improved Reggie Jackson.
The Thunder's reserve point guard has become more comfortable and confident in his second season and is now looking to show off his skills as the newly-named backup to Westbrook. After giving a recovering Eric Maynor 25 games to find his rhythm following last year's knee injury, Thunder coach Scott Brooks handed Jackson the keys to the second unit three games ago.
It's his show now, and the Thunder is hoping that in his second season Jackson has matured and moved past much of his erratic play from a season ago.
“I was trying to find myself last year,” Jackson said. “I wasn't who I am accustomed to being.”
There are reasons to believe this year could be different for Jackson, starting with the natural progression players make in their sophomore seasons. Already, Jackson has shown growth as a shooter, ball-handler and decision-maker.
But Jackson is benefiting from a long list of experiences that a lockout-shortened season robbed him of as a rookie.
He didn't play summer league last year. He didn't have a full training camp. He didn't have many practices during a compacted schedule. He didn't have health on his side.
Coming into this year?
He had summer league. He had training camp. He had practice time. He's had health.
“Last year I was so timid, and the mistakes I made were, I believe, even worse because I wasn't really trying to do anything out there,” Jackson said. “So just knowing that you have a little freedom and being comfortable with the system a little more, and just a year of growth, I think, has really helped.”
Jackson was then asked where his comfort level is currently.
“Sky high,” he said.
A week ago, Jackson scored a NBA D-League high 37 points with nine rebounds and five assists while assigned to the Tulsa 66ers. That performance came one night after Jackson scored 27 points with seven rebounds and nine assists. The D-League named Jackson its Performer of the Week — which Jackson said was commemorated only with “a pat on the back” — and it only helped strengthen his self-assurance.
Jackson's task now, however, is a tricky one.
He must find a way to make an impact with limited minutes and less freedom. There was no Westbrook, Martin, Kevin Durant or Serge Ibaka in Tulsa. With the Thunder, Jackson has to play in a system and be solid rather than spectacular. It's a role that likely will suppress much of Jackson's natural gifts. But to play, and play well, it's up to Jackson to find the right balance.
“He's going to continue to get better, but that's not his job,” Brooks said. “As a point guard you have to understand your job. When he's playing in Tulsa, obviously he can do other things that we don't need him to do here and he's not going to be able to do here. He has to just focus on running the team, being a coach on the floor, setting the team up, knowing time, score, knowing who's hot, who's not (and) knowing what plays to call for certain players. And I think that's going to come with some time.
“He's like a lot of our guys. They're all a work in progress. But I thought the last couple of games he's been solid and hopefully he continues to improve in the way that he has improved in the last year and a half.”
Thunder at Houston Rockets
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Toyota Center, Houston
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37/HD 722, DirecTV 679, Dish, U-Verse 754/HD 1754).
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM
Three things to know
* This is the second of three games the Thunder and Rockets will play this season. Oklahoma City defeated Houston 120-98 on Nov. 28 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. Former Thunder guard James Harden was held to 17 points on 3-for-16 shooting in that game.
* After earning Player of the Month in November, Kevin Durant is averaging 31.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.9 blocks in December.
* Houston had won five straight prior to Friday's game at San Antonio.
* Rockets record and stats are through Thursday.