Comparing second-year guard Reggie Jackson to future perennial All-Star James Harden isn't fair to either player.
Especially to Jackson, who the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to hope becomes the next Harden. While they won't expect Jackson to become the Sixth Man of the Year anytime soon, like Harden was in 2012, they do expect him to gradually fill in the shoes left behind by one of the league's most versatile and explosive shooting guards.
Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets after deciding not to take a pay cut to remain the Thunder's sixth man. Impending luxury tax penalties forced the Thunder and Harden into making a critical decision regarding their future.
In the end, Harden didn't want to make significantly less than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, so he took a max deal with the Rockets.
Without Harden, the Thunder have been scrambling for players who could possibly fill the role of explosive guard who can facilitate as a passer and scorer. In his final year with the Thunder, Harden's role on the team was as large as it had been the previous two seasons as he recorded a career-high PER of 21.1
Surprisingly, there has actually been a decline in the shot attempts from Durant and Westbrook, who both took fewer field-goal attempts per game this year than they did the previous season with Harden by their side. Oklahoma City is obviously attempting to find other mediums for offense, and that includes Jackson, who is taking more shots and playing more minutes than he did in his rookie season last year.
Serge Ibaka thrived the most off of Harden's absence in terms of an increased role in the offense, taking nearly 10 field-goal attempts per a year after only taking a shade above seven.
The introduction of Kevin Martin, who was acquired in the Harden trade, also played a part in Durant and Westbrook taking less shots. The problem with Martin is that although he can hold his own in the scoring column, he doesn't provide near the intangibles Harden can provide.
Martin has career averages of 3.3 rebounds and two assists per game. At 30 years old, you already know what you're going to get out of K-Mart. He has been the player who has attempted to take over Harden's former position of sixth man, but he isn't coming close to matching the four boards and four dimes James was contributing off the bench in his last year with the Thunder.
Oklahoma City can't rely on Kevin Martin to become their next James Harden. That player is going to have to be Reggie Jackson, the 23-year-old first-round pick by the Thunder who averaged five points on 46 percent shooting in his second year.
It was a significant jump from the three points on 32 percent shooting he was averaging the previous year. He also averaged 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per, good enough for six rebounds and 4.4 assists per 36 minutes.
Still, Jackson was only getting 15 minutes worth of playing time on average. His role in the postseason has increased significantly, and he is now playing more than double the minutes he was playing in the regular season, garnering nearly 33 minutes of playing time per night.
He's also taking advantage, too, averaging 13.7 points on 48 percent shooting, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Jackson has also bumped up his three-point shooting percentage of 23 to a respectable 32 percent.
His three-point shot has played a solid role in telling how well the Thunder play. When they win, Jackson is shooting 31 percent and has a field-goal efficiency of 52 percent. When the Thunder lose, however, Jackson is shooting 17 percent on threes and and his field-goal efficiency drops to 49 percent.
In the midst of the Thunder falling in the semifinals, there is a silver lining that has shone through Jackson. He's another young piece on a young team that will be set to contend for NBA titles during at least the next five years.
While he's not James Harden, he's also no slouch. Jackson is going to earn himself a significant spot in next year's regular-season rotation after the postseason he's had.
With a completion percentage of 74 percent around the rim this postseason, Jackson also shows that his 6'3" frame does little in the form of keeping him away from the trees down low.
Jackson was a 75 percent shooter at the rim in the regular season this year, a vast improvement from the 45 percent he was shooting in the same area in his rookie season.
Much like Harden, Jackson has also seen gradual and significant improvement during his first few years with the Thunder. With the confidence he's garnering from his increased role in the playoffs, Jackson should expect to make the jump from fringe player to key rotation player over the offseason.
Against the Memphis Grizzlies vaunted defense, Jackson is averaging 13 points on 53 percent shooting. He is the third-leading scorer on the Thunder, only behind Durant and Martin, and is the second-leading assist man with 14 assists in four games.
Although he's already turned the ball over nine times in four games, he has shown that he is capable of taking care of the ball after averaging only two turnovers per 36 minutes in the regular season.
With Russell Westbrook out of the lineup, Jackson has become one of the Thunder's primary facilitators. It's also been a showcase of what he'll have in store for Oklahoma City in the future, as he'll end up becoming a rotation player off the bench alongside Martin and Nick Collison.
It seems he's going to fit right in, too. Per SynergySports, Jackson is among the league's top scorers as the pick-and-roll man, using it 28 percent of the time and shooting 55 percent on 108 field-goal attempts. He also ranks 39th in the league in isolation sets, garnering 0.92 points per possession and shooting nearly 44 percent.
Jackson does have an excellent mindset for a player in his position. Aware of his below-average jump-shooting ability, he ended up taking 200 of his 429 field-goal attempts this past season within 10 feet of the rim.
Overall, Jackson had 26 percent of his field-goal attempts come at the rim. Unfortunately, the 142 three-point shots he jacked up caused his field-goal percentage and overall efficiency to slip.
It's his spot-up shooting that keeps him far away from being anywhere near Harden's level.
While Harden shot 39 percent overall and 35 percent from beyond the arc this season on spot-ups, Jackson was only a 35 percent overall shooter and 30 percent from deep on the same plays. The comparison is skewed, however, as Jackson was far more reliant on spot-ups than Harden, who was more reliant on isolations.
He hasn't done much better on the defensive end guarding spot-ups, as he's allowing his assignment to convert 44 percent of their three-pointers on those plays, per SynergySports.
One thing is for sure: "Mr. OKCtober" needs to work on his jumper over the summer.
With the possibility of 20 minutes of playing time per game in his future, Jackson is going to have to become a more well-rounded player to avoid being one-dimensional and having an offensive repertoire that's easy to solve by defenses.
It's difficult to say Reggie Jackson is going to become the next James Harden when he can't shoot in the same zip code. At Jackson's age, Harden was already shooting 39 percent from beyond the arc and taking nearly five three-point attempts per game.
Jackson has taken 141 three-point attempts this season and has only converted 25 percent of those threes. An improvement from the 13-of-62 he shot the previous year from the same distance, but not the numbers that are going to bring up thoughts of Harden and his career three-point percentage of 37.
Fortunately, he'll have a long summer to improve upon the shot that is currently holding him back.
He's not going to be the next James Harden, though. Harden is a legitimate superstar averaging 26 points as a primary option with Houston now, and it's tough to imagine Jackson averaging anywhere near that many as a primary option anywhere.
He'll be a contributing member of the Thunder's bench, as long as he continues to stay aggressive, but he won't begin to fill in the shoes that Harden left behind until he works on his jumper and makes himself a threat who can thrive outside of the paint.
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