Pierre Jackson Shaping Up as Philadelphia 76ers Starting Point Guard in 2015-16

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2015

USA Today

NBA life has officially come full circle for Pierre Jackson.

Two years after the Philadelphia 76ers selected him with the 42nd overall pick in 2013, the organization offered him a four-year, partially guaranteed contract.

More than a little adversity transpired during the interim, making this deal all the sweeter despite its modest price tag.

"It's unexplainable," Jackson told reporters Wednesday, per Philly.com's Bob Cooney. "I was devastated when I got hurt. Throughout the whole year, [head coach] Brett Brown and [general manager] Sam [Hinkie] communicated with me. ... I was just keeping my faith up and knowing that they were still interested in me and were ready for me to get back right.

"[Tuesday, when he signed the contract] was a big day for me. Sam is a great guy, and it was a big day for me and my family. They didn't have to do that at all. That means a lot about the organization and what Sam has got going on here. I'm just glad to be a part of it."

The contract has been a long time coming for Jackson.

As CBSSports.com's James Herbert recently noted, "This timeline is far from what he had in mind coming out of Baylor, but Jackson might have found himself the perfect situation. While he said other teams were interested in him, his preference all along was to sign with the Sixers."

Jackson tore his right Achilles tendon seven minutes into his first summer-league game back in 2014, which forced him to miss the 2014-15 campaign entirely—a season he was supposed to spend playing for Philly.

Now the Baylor product is looking forward to playing an integral—perhaps starting—role for the young Sixers this season, and there's renewed optimism about his chances after a largely successful stint at the Las Vegas Summer League.

Jackson averaged 10 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists in four appearances with Philly's summer-league squad in Vegas. The shooting (31.8 percent) will improve as he shakes off the rust, which makes Jackson a potential bargain for a franchise that's short of more established talent at the point, particularly after trading away former Rookie of the Year floor general Michael Carter-Williams.

The 23-year-old will primarily compete with two-year veteran Isaiah Canaan for minutes at the point, and he could certainly earn prominent playing time in an unsettled rotation.

"I'll never stop working, and it's been obvious throughout my basketball career since college," the 5'10" floor general added, per Cooney. "Obviously, you want to support your family, and I want to continue to do that while playing in the NBA.

"I'll go through training camp and see what the team needs are and what players we have. That's going to be fun. I think we're going to be really versatile. I can score, I can pass, and we'll be able to play off of each other. I feel good. I have no complaints right now."

Even before the torn Achilles, Jackson had had a unique journey. He was initially sent to the New Orleans Pelicans with Jrue Holiday in the deal that returned big man Nerlens Noel. Jackson went on to average 29.1 points per contest in the NBA Development League during the 2013-14 campaign, once dropping a D-League record 58 points while playing for the Idaho Stampede.

Jackson also had brief stints with teams in France and Turkey, but he never suited up for the former and only lasted six games with the latter. An international career just wasn't meant to be at the time. And an NBA return seemed within reach until the untimely injury.

"It was a tough road," Jackson said recently, according to CBSSports.com's James Herbert. "I can't really put it into words 'cause not too many people have been through what I've been through in my first two years of being a professional. I'm just blessed to be here."

The new contract is a second chance, and it comes with a team that has serious needs at point guard. While Jackson's summer-league performance wasn't dominant, it offered real hope that he could return to form in relatively short order.

Jul 11, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Pierre Jackson (55) congratulates teammates after a time out is called during an NBA Summer League game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Thomas & Mack Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvani
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

"We haven't seen the explosiveness that he has, but I think it's mental," assistant (and summer-league head coach) Lloyd Pierce said in Vegas, per Cooney. "I don't think he's lost it; he just hasn't showed it, yet."

In context, Jackson's return demands a little patience. The 76ers, who are still firmly entrenched in a protracted rebuilding process, can afford that.

"One thing that we have to keep in mind is this is Pierre's third game in probably the last 360-something days," Pierce added, per Herbert. "It's trying to find rhythm, trying to trust your body and be a little cautious with your body as well as trying to be aggressive."

It will be a process for Jackson, but he's a proven scorer and hard worker. And now he has something to prove.

"I'm very competitive and I don't like when people doubt me," Jackson said, per Herbert. "I see people thinking I'm going to be a starter here—that's always love. And you got the people that don't think so."

Canaan has more NBA experience than Jackson, but he hasn't set himself apart by any means. The 24-year-old averaged just 9.2 points and 2.1 assists in 47 appearances with the Houston Rockets and 76ers last season. To his credit, Canaan's numbers jumped to 12.6 points and 3.1 assists in 25.9 minutes per contest while playing with Philadelphia. He also made 36.4 percent of his three-point attempts with the team.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Jackson and Canaan can both score the ball. The bigger question may be who is readier to contribute as a playmaker. The 76ers need someone who can lead this young roster and create opportunities for others. It remains unclear who has the edge in that regard, but Jackson has the potential to become a more well-rounded contributor. 

Summer league guard Scottie Wilbekin also signed a four-year deal with the club and could vie for minutes at the point, but he likely slots behind Canaan and Jackson on the depth chart at the moment. Tony Wroten could theoretically spend some time at the 1 as well, but he's more of a combo guard (if not shooting guard), and he's coming off a partially torn ACL suffered in January. 

Canaan started 12 games for the Sixers a season ago, and he could well inherit the starting gig at the outset of the 2015-16 season—particularly if it takes Jackson some time to regain his form. Just don't be surprised if Jackson snatches that job sometime between training camp and the All-Star break. His upside is undeniable, and the Sixers didn't bring him on board to watch from the bench.

They brought him here to do what injury prevented him from doing a year ago.

"It was amazing, man," Jackson said of rejoining the team, per Herbert. "It's a feeling I can't really explain, man. I've been waiting on this chance my whole life to be a part of a team and actually be there the whole year. It's finally here."

On the heels of a roundabout introduction to the pro game, signing with the organization is a vitally important first step. The next step entails running away with the starting job, and that's suddenly become conceivable.

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