OKC Thunder Face Critical Decision with Reggie Jackson's Role

Fred Katz@@FredKatzFeatured ColumnistJune 18, 2014

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Reggie Jackson shoots a free throw in the final seconds of overtime in Game 4 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday, April 26, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. Jackson scored 32 points as Oklahoma City won 92-89. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Reggie Jackson is about to make life with the Oklahoma City Thunder quite difficult.  

Jackson is scheduled to hit restricted free agency in the summer of 2015. That gives him one more year on his rookie deal, which will pay him $2.2 million next season. 

But very shortly, we could see Jackson switch his relationship status with the Thunder from "married" to "it's complicated."

The Thunder have their own free agents to deal with this offseason. Derek Fisher has already taken the job as coach of the New York Knicks. Thabo Sefolosha can walk. So can Caron Butler. They're small pieces, but they are ones who aggregate for large chunks of minutes.

The reserves were an issue all year for OKC. Thunder bench players averaged just 15.5 points per 48 minutes, per HoopsStats.com, ranking them 28th in the NBA

This year, Jackson was the help the reserves constantly needed. He averaged 12.3 points in 26.2 minutes per game when he didn't start. He was the spark plug.

He was enough of a help that Scott Brooks eventually threw him into the starting lineup for the Thunder's final four playoff games against the San Antonio Spurs. With Sefolosha struggling as much as he was, shooting just 26 percent from three-point land in the postseason, what other choice did the Thunder have?

Eric Gay/Associated Press

Now, with Sefolosha hitting free agency, Oklahoma City doesn't have a shooting guard. Or does it? Could Jackson be the answer next year?

As I wrote in a column last week, the Thunder found tremendous success when Jackson played shooting guard next to Russell Westbrook this past season. 

In 395 regular-season minutes (subscription required) during which Westbrook and Jackson shared the floor, the Thunder outscored opponents by an outrageous 17.8 points per 100 possessions (commonly referred to as net rating). But that was still somewhat of a small sample size for a full season, especially considering Brooks only used the lineup in just 41 games because of Westbrook's knee injuries.

Still, Brooks used the Westbrook-Jackson backcourt for just 9.6 minutes per game in the regular season. But in the playoffs, that number almost doubled, shooting up to 18.4. And the combination still dominated.

The Thunder posted an 8.3 net rating when Westbrook and Jackson were both on the court in the postseason. To put that in perspective, the best team net rating during the regular season was the Spurs' 8.1.

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

We know OKC has statistically dominated when it's used the two-point-guard lineup. So, what happens if it decides to play Jackson at the 2 moving forward? All of a sudden, the Thunder will lose their best bench player, but that may be thinking too short term.

Jackson is going to get paid in 2015 to such a degree that it'd be silly to keep him as a bench player. He's still only 24 years old and has already established himself as one of the four or five best backup point guards in the league. Heck, he may be the best.

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

If Oklahoma City throws him into the starting lineup next year and his minutes increase from the 28.5 per game he averaged this past season to 34 or 35 a night, what happens to his value then? What if he improves even more than expected with that bump in playing time?

Would OKC be willing to keep him? Would the team be able to keep him? 

That's always the question about the Thunder in the post-Harden era. Do they have the willingness and ability to spend?

Eric Bledsoe, who found himself in a similar situation last year to the one Jackson is in this year, is about to get himself a max contractor close to it. Even the 29-year-old Jarrett Jack got $25.2 million over four years last offseason to be a backup in Cleveland, and he was an unrestricted free agent. 

Point guard may be the deepest position in the league, but young, athletic combo guards are still getting paid. So, if the Thunder aren't willing to dough up, we may see a trade at some point. After all, we've seen them institute that philosophy before.

OKC wouldn't have to unload Jackson during the offseason, such as the Los Angeles Clippers did when they felt like they couldn't pay Bledsoe in the summer of 2014. The team could wait until the trade deadline and make a mid-season deal. 

Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant and Westbrook are due a lofty total of $49.6 million heading into 2015. Meanwhile, that doesn't account for the rest of the roster and potential free agents who could sign this offseason under the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions.

That could push the Thunder dangerously close to the luxury-tax threshold, which was about $71.5 million this year, though it is expected to rise before next season. And we all know how averse OKC has been to venture into such territory.

It's decision-making time in Oklahoma, but no matter what happens, Oklahoma City has to get something for Jackson if he isn't going to be a part of the future. And if he is, then there's a decent chance we'll see him beginning games next to Westbrook this season with a newly infused bench to complement the starters.


Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com, WashingtonPost.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of June 18 and courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. All contract and salary information courtesy of ShamSports.com.