"Mr. OKCtober" had been one of the best bench scorers in the NBA to start the season, but now, with Russell Westbrook out indefinitely with a knee injury, he finds himself taking his perfect nickname with him into the Thunder starting lineup.
In 14 starts since the Westbrook injury, Jackson has filled in admirably, posting averages of 14.6 points, 4.6 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 31.3 minutes a game. He's been relatively efficient and, in those 14 games, is making almost 36 percent of his threes, a weakness in the past which he's greatly improved this season.
Jackson is quick, strong and athletic. He's a momentum player, someone who can best attack a defense lowering his head and going at the rim.
But ideally, Jackson's offense wouldn't be the primary part of his game.
As strong of an offensive player as Jackson may become, his future will likely be as a defensive player. Ask him to extend his arms so that they are parallel to the ground and you'll have to walk in a pretty circuitous route to get around him. That's because Jackson's wingspan stretches to seven feet long.
That's almost unheard of for someone who stands at just 6'3". Seven feet. It's not normal.
Take someone with Jackson's athleticism and length, put him on a normal-sized point guard and see what he does to him defensively. He'll eat him up. Every time. That is, as long as he knows what he's doing.
For now, Jackson still has plenty of issues on the defensive end. He isn't always in the right place, his help defense is inconsistent, and he'll often find himself rotating a step late when he has to go over and guard a teammate's assignment.
That leaves a decent amount to be desired when it comes to Jackson's off-ball defense. He'll drift and will get beaten with backdoor cuts if the offense chooses to go to that.
But when he's on the ball, he can be a pest.
Jackson isn't just a bull when he defends point guards either. His length allows him to play alongside (a healthy) Russell Westbrook and actually guard 2s and even switch onto 3s.
Defensive versatility is probably the most important asset Jackson's length gives him. When he guards someone like Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, he is quick enough to stay in front of him and long enough to keep him uncomfortable:
But then Jackson can turn around and guard someone like Ty Lawson, the exact opposite type of player.
Green is big and burly. He'll beat a small player with strength and size. He's clearly not outrunning a guard.
On the other side, Lawson is one of the smallest and fastest guards in the entire league. Once he has a head of steam going forward, you're not going to have a great chance of getting in front of him. Unlike Green, that's how Lawson makes his living: with rapid, decisive moves.
But Jackson still manages to stay in front of him and contest a shot:
Lawson had the momentum. He had the angle to the basket. He just couldn't finish. Point: Jackson.
That's what Jackson's length can do to offensive players. It gives him some catch-up time, some ability to stay a half-step behind the few guards who are quicker than him and still contest their shots.
For now, though, Jackson's defense is still more about upside than present contributions. He could be one of the best defensive guards in the NBA. He just isn't that right now.
Learn to help properly, learn to stay with your man off the ball, and learn not to turn into a revolving door like this, and you can become a great defender with skills like Jackson's. But today, those are just skills. Skills Jackson hasn't fully figured out how to use.
At least at the moment, Jackson isn't close to his defensive potential.
Jackson's situation is sort of Eric Bledsoe-like. But not like this year's Bledsoe; like last year's. He's an athletic, supernaturally long guard with high defensive potential backing up a top-tier point guard.
He's not playing off the ball as much as he could. He's stuck with a coach who often prefers veterans (like Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins) to younger, sometimes mistake-prone players. All of that is uncomfortably close to the situation Bledsoe found himself in last year in Los Angeles.
The narratives are similar, though the players aren't exactly the same. But if there's one thing the narrative teaches us, it's that we've seen someone in a situation like Jackson's break out before. And we might see Jackson himself do that at some point in the near future.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36 minutes numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.
*All statistics current as of Jan. 22.
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