Before we know what role rookie guard Reggie Jackson will have this season, the 24th overall pick must first join training camp.
The 6-foot-3 point guard out of Boston College missed the Oklahoma City Thunder's first two days of practice because his contract had yet to be finalized. The Thunder finally signed Jackson on Saturday, which signals the official beginning to his NBA career.
But the road ahead could be filled with pot holes and speed bumps for Jackson.
The 149-day NBA lockout cost rookies like Jackson both important playing time when summer leagues were canceled and invaluable professional training when the annual rookie transition program was wiped out. Coming into camp, Jackson was faced with only eight days of practices before the team's dress rehearsals began on Dec. 18 — and there are only two of those.
Now, Jackson will need to play catch up whenever he can take the floor. Not exactly the best set of circumstances for a rookie looking to carve out an already improbable role on a championship-caliber team with a loaded roster.
“The competition level will be higher for him,” said Thunder general manager Sam Presti. “He has a shortened training camp, so there won't be as much time. I'll be interested to see how he reacts to those situations, how he progresses through it.”
Guaranteed playing time for rookies came to an end two years ago. With Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor at point guard, there don't appear to be minutes at the lead guard spot for Jackson. And with James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha manning the shooting guard position, Jackson might still be squeezed out despite his ability to play off the ball.
But here's where the lockout might be beneficial. Because the league constructed a shortened 66-game schedule filled with back-to-backs and a handful of three games in three nights, coach Scott Brooks might have to rely more on his bench this season. Brooks used a nine-man rotation for much of last year but expanded it to 10 toward the end of the year. This year, Brooks may have to reduce minutes even more to preserve his players' bodies for the playoffs. But it's still much too early to know how it will all shake out and what it might mean for Jackson.
“I haven't seen him other than when we worked him out (before the draft),” Brooks said. “We're excited about having him. Sam does a great job of putting this team together, and he's another piece that is going to be important. There's opportunities. He has to earn them. He has to fight for them. But we're looking forward to having him.”
Those who have worked out with Jackson show great respect for his skills. Watch any YouTube clip of Jackson's highlights from Boston College and you'll likely marvel at his talents, too. He's an ultra-athletic guard that Brooks labeled tough-minded. He has highlight-reel explosiveness one possession and displays routinely efficient decision-making the next. Think Westbrook with better pace.
As a junior, Jackson scored 18.2 points on an eye-popping 50.3 percent shooting. He made 42 percent of his 3s and contributed 4.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
In the NBA, Jackson's strength and length could make him lethal. He's got a 7-foot wingspan, which could translate to tremendous defensive pressure, playing multiple positions and above-average rebounding from the guard spot.
“He's strong,” said Westbrook, who worked out a handful of times with Jackson this summer and will now be charged to help Jackson along as Earl Watson once did for him. “He knows the game well. He knows how to play and he knows how to make the right play. And he does a good job of playing together.”
How quickly Jackson is able to learn the team's concepts and adjust to the pace of the NBA game could determine where he fits this season. But Brooks and others said they expect Jackson to pick up things rapidly on the fly.
“He's very smart,” said Kevin Durant. “His basketball IQ is up there.”
Jackson wisely joined his new teammates this summer when Thunder players organized voluntary minicamps throughout the country. If nothing else, that time could keep Jackson from being so much of a wide-eyed rookie now that his career has finally begun.
“I think the lockout was kind of a blessing in disguise for him as far as us having those camps and us coming together three or four times during the offseason,” Durant said. “He got acquainted with everybody and he felt comfortable with everybody. That's the biggest thing. It helped him out and he's coming into training camp with a little bit of confidence.”