Reggie Jackson Is Key to Oklahoma City Thunder Surviving Los Angeles Clippers

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterMay 7, 2014

Oklahoma City Thunder's Reggie Jackson (15) drives past Cleveland Cavaliers' Jarrett Jack (1) during an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 20, 2014, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

I don't care if Kevin Durant averages 40 the rest of the way—the Oklahoma City Thunder aren't going anywhere without Reggie Jackson

This team lacks depth. Jackson essentially is the depth in terms of backup scoring and playmaking. 

When Jackson is off his game, this starting lineup has no margin for error. Outside of Caron Butler, who shouldn't be counted on anyway, there isn't anyone else on the bench capable of generating their own offense. 

But when Jackson is turned up, and he's able to provide some firepower as a reserve, he gives the Thunder an extra punch and a sorely needed additional weapon.

Just take a look at how this team has fared in the playoffs when Jackson has been good versus when he's stunk:

Reggie Jackson: Postseason Numbers in Wins versus Losses
Points per gameField-Goal PercentageThree-Point Shooting
Four Wins18.2.6388 of 14
Four Losses4.0.1722 of 9

He's averaging over 18 points a game during wins and just four points during losses. 

It was the same story during the regular season. Jackson averaged roughly 14 points on 46.4 percent shooting in 57 wins and 10.8 points on 37.4 percent shooting in 23 losses.  

Jackson is a rhythm player, at least at this stage in his career. He's one of those guards who's capable of heating up and scoring in bunches, like he did in the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 4 (first round) against the Memphis Grizzles, when he dropped 17 of his 32 points. 

“He gave us the lift we needed as a sixth man,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks told Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver. 

Unfortunately, when Jackson can't find that zone, the rim shrinks to the size of a red Solo Cup. Jackson shot just one of eight in a Game 1, second-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, and he shot 2 of 7 in 37 minutes of a Game 5 loss to the Grizzlies the previous round. In Games 2 and 3 (both losses) against Memphis, he combined to shoot 2 of 14.

Jackson's inconsistency stems from the fact that he needs the ball in his hands, and with Russell Westbrook in the lineup, that's just not going to happen possession after possession. Jackson is at his best when he can shake and bake off the dribble, whether he's weaving through traffic on the way to the rim or he's stepping into a pull-up jumper. 

But when he doesn't have the ball, Jackson is vulnerable to disappearing. 

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Having played point guard in college, Jackson is clearly more comfortable with the ball in his hands, but as Oklahoma City's sixth man, he's had to adapt as a combo guard. And combo guards need to be able to play both on and off the ball. 

The Thunder need Jackson to be what Jamal Crawford is to the Clippers—a guy who can come in and make shots, whether he's creating them or finishing them as a shooter off the ball. 

Take a look at the difference between Jackson, Oklahoma City's top weapon off the bench, and Crawford, the expected 2014 Sixth Man of the Year, per ESPN's Marc Stein, in terms of how they got their buckets during the 2013-14 season. 

Scoring Off the Ball versus Scoring On the Ball
Made Field GoalsPercentage of Field Goals AssistedPercentage of Field Goals Unassisted
Reggie Jackson403.29 (118 total).71 (285)
Jamal Crawford421.51 (215 total).49 (206)

Of Crawford's 421 made field goal's this season, 51 percent of them were assisted, which reflects his ability to play off the ball as a catch-and-shoot scorer. Of Jackson's 403 made field goals this year, only 29.3 percent of them were assisted, meaning 71 percent of his buckets have essentially come one-on-one. 

Jackson is going to have to start finding ways to play without the ball, and Coach Brooks is going to have to figure out how to maximize his talent. Because Jackson is just too talented to finish games with only a bucket or two, and the Thunder can't afford such little production from him off the bench. 

This is a guy who's capable of taking over stretches of a game—but asserting himself from start to finish  has been his challenge early on. 

The Clippers are just too explosive offensively, and despite the scoring attack that Durant and Westbrook provide, they can't carry this team alone. 

Whether he's up for it or not, Jackson has become Oklahoma City's ultimate X-factor, and he could be the difference between the Thunder going home early and emerging from the West.