Reggie Jackson sat down for an interview over All-Star Weekend in New Orleans and issued a revelation that few players ever fess up to, an admission even fewer confess by the time they’ve reached their third NBA season.
“I knew the NBA season was long,” Jackson said during a video interview with NBA.com. “But with this new role I’ve been thrown into, I didn’t understand how long.”
Jackson was admitting fatigue.
For the first time in his career, Jackson is logging heavy minutes and having to figure out how to play them and still be productive. The reserve point guard, who was projected to be the Thunder’s sixth man at the start of the season, instead has started 30 of 58 games this year while filling in for Russell Westbrook. Jackson already has played 1,654 minutes. In 70 games last year, he logged 993 minutes.
The additional duty might partly explain why Jackson, as well as second-year guard Jeremy Lamb, has tailed off in recent weeks after both used the early schedule to establish themselves as pivotal pieces off the bench.
Lamb has played more than eight times as many minutes this season as he did a year ago. He’s tallied, 1,266 minutes compared to last year’s 147.
So he can empathize with what Jackson is feeling.
“At times, yeah, you feel fatigued,” Lamb said.
This could be the downside to the Thunder slow-playing its players’ development. The proverbial “rookie wall” doesn’t hit in Year One. It shows up in Year Two and Three. And when it finally arrives, it hits with force, leaving the players in unexpected funks and the fans to try to figure out what in the world is up.
But fatigue is a natural obstacle that all young players must overcome. Most young players run into that hurdle as rookies. But rookies competing with the championship-contending Thunder for the last three years had a delay.
Lamb ranked 26th last year among rookies from the 2012 draft class in minutes played. Perry Jones III ranked 23rd. Among rookies from the 2011 draft class, Jackson also ranked 23rd.
It should be no surprise then that Lamb and Jackson have hit a bump in the road.
Lamb is averaging just seven points on 36.1 percent shooting in 10 February games. He’s scored in double figures only twice this month and is shooting just 29 percent on 3-point attempts.
Jackson, meanwhile, has been wildly erratic while bouncing between the second unit and the first string. His field-goal percentage has dipped every month this season, to its current low of 40.3 percent this month, and he’s averaged just eight points on 30 percent shooting in the three games since Westbrook returned and moved him back to the bench.
Their ineffectiveness is now saddling a second unit that, despite key losses in each of the last two offseasons, was establishing itself as one of the best in the business. For that group to regain what it had, the Thunder is counting on Jackson and Lamb.
“Offensively, they’ve struggled a little bit. But it’s nothing that I’m concerned with at this moment,” Brooks said of Jackson and Lamb. “They just have to continue to fight through it. Continue to do the same routine they’ve always done. I think when players get in trouble is when they change things up every other rough patch. If you do the same thing every day, and it’s the right thing, you’re going to have consistent results.”
Lamb has to go back three years, to his freshman season at Connecticut, to find anything that remotely compares to what he’s experiencing now. It was the then-Big East Tournament, which his Huskies improbably ran through by racking up five wins in five days before advancing to the NCAA Tournament and capping their storybook season with a national championship.
Much like then, Lamb says this bout with fatigue is more mental than physical.
“Everybody told us we were going to be tired. But we wanted to win,” Lamb remembered. “We didn’t really feel tired because we were focused on winning. We were focused on playing hard. So now, I think it’s your mind. If you come out and say ‘I’m tired today,’ then you’re going to be tired. But if you come out and say ‘Let’s get better today. Let’s get some work in,’ you’re going to break a sweat, you’re going to have a good time and your body’s going to feel a whole lot better.”
Lamb said he’s now doing little things like soaking himself in a cold tub and wrapping his limbs with ice to preserve his body.
Veterans on the Thunder also have been integral in walking younger teammates through exactly how to overcome fatigue. Kevin Durant has been among the biggest aides in that area, through his words and his actions.
“These minutes early in the season, when I kind of felt fatigued, he just told me to remind myself the mind is a powerful tool,” Jackson told NBA.com. “So just kind of tell yourself that you can battle through anything, you can get through anything, whether it be physical fatigue, mental fatigue, things off the court or on the court. Just believe in yourself and continue to play and things will kind of turn out in your favor and go well for you.”