Reggie Jackson wasn't supposed to be ready this season.
The plan was to bring him along slowly and groom him for the future.
But when Eric Maynor was lost for the year to a knee injury last month, the rookie out of Boston College was thrust into active duty only 10 games into his NBA career.
Jackson and the Thunder have had to make the best of it, and so far the results have been adequate.
Yet, people still are concerned over whether Jackson is the Thunder's weak link to a title; if Oklahoma City can win it all with a rookie backup point guard.
Of course, we see no reason why the Thunder can't. It's been done before.
The last time a team won a title with a rookie backup point guard was in 2005, when San Antonio defeated Detroit in seven games. The Spurs that year handed the responsibility of that role to then 22-year-old Beno Udrih. He averaged 11.5 minutes and one assist in the postseason, while scoring 3.7 points per game on 35.9 percent shooting.
Jackson's statistical production thus far — 3.5 points, 1.4 assists on 32.9 percent shooting in 11.4 minutes per game — has been nearly identical to Udrih's numbers from that playoff run.
No other team from the past 10 champions has trotted out a rookie backup point guard. But the Spurs used second-year man Speedy Claxton in 2001, and two other teams in that window had third-year players as their primary backups.
But for most teams chasing a championship, the backup point guard should be near the bottom of the list of concerns. Reserve point guards can help you win a game or a series, as we saw last season with former Dallas lightening bolt J.J. Barea. But rarely are they the reason you lose.
Defensive rebounding, turnovers and half-court offense are more pressing issues for the Thunder. Sure, the Thunder would prefer a veteran backup with a steady hand, especially with the erratic Russell Westbrook steering the ship as the starter. But history has proved that having a young backup point guard is by no means a death sentence.
There is no doubt the Thunder misses Maynor. He was magnificent at managing the second unit, controlling the flow of the game by playing with great pace and getting others easy baskets. Those things seemed to come natural, quickly establishing Maynor as one the league's best backup point guards.
What many failed to realize, though, (because the season was so young when he went down) is Maynor was having less of an impact this season. The emergence of James Harden as a playmaker and potent scorer in the second unit took the ball out of Maynor's hands and put more responsibility on Harden's shoulders. That trend figured to continue as the season played out, quashing Maynor's best qualities.
That suggests Jackson's minutes now won't make or break the Thunder, although there has been clear drop off in the team's bench play since Manyor was lost.
According to 82games.com, the opening-night second unit of Maynor, Harden, Daequan Cook, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed played 61.7 minutes. That unit scored 1.29 points per possession, gave up 1.03 points per possession and had an overall plus-minus of plus-23. Overall, that unit outscored its opponents four out of seven times when on the court.
By comparison, the current second unit of Jackson, Harden, Cook, Collison and Mohammed has played 64.8 minutes. That unit has scored 1.11 points per possession, given up 1.04 points per possession and has a plus-minus of plus-3. Overall, the current B Team has outscored its opponents only three out of nine times.
Some of that difference can be attributed to the adjustment period of inserting Jackson, the Thunder playing better opponents recently and the team's growing dependence on the two-man game with Harden and Collison, which has stymied the second string at times with more predictable offense.
Those are enough reasons to believe the Thunder will be OK with Jackson.
Additionally, it's important to remember that Jackson is learning on the fly. Summer league was canceled. Training camp was cut short, and Jackson missed most of what was left because of injuries. The compacted schedule has all but obliterated practice time. And Jackson has appeared in just 21 games — only 18 of which were still meaningful by the time he checked in — for a total of 238 minutes.
The areas in which we've seen Jackson struggle, most notably combating pressure while bringing the ball up, getting into sets quickly and defending isolations, certainly will improve. We can be sure because we've seen this show before.
It wasn't long ago that all the hand-wringing was over the same issues with Westbrook and Manyor.
And most would say they turned out pretty good.