As cozy as the role as the Thunder’s go-to guy off the bench seemed to fit him, Reggie Jackson always made it clear he planned on outgrowing it.
He told the Oklahoman during the middle of last season, “Every day I woke up at 5 in the morning in high school, getting shots up and I never said I wanted to be a bench player. I always woke up to be the greatest.”
When the Thunder’s season came to an end in the Western Conference finals last May, Jackson made it as clear as possible.
At 24 years old with four years in the league, he had no visions of that role being permanent.
“I’d like to be a starter,” he said. “I’m not going to lie.”
When the season started, Jackson had to sit out the first three games with a sprained ankle. But his niche was still the same. He was to be Russell Westbrook’s backup when he returned.
Then two games into the season, circumstances changed everything.
Westbrook fractured his hand against the Clippers, dealing the already shorthanded Thunder, who were playing without Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant, another blow.
When Jackson made his debut Nov. 3 against the Nets, it was as a starter.
He’s been in the role ever since, and he’ll remain there for the 4-6 weeks it takes Westbrook to recover.
“I’m just trying to make the most of it,” said the former Boston College star. “I came out and said I wanted to be a starter, so I have to take this opportunity head on and go out here and do the best that I can to try to prepare each and every day now to help my guys, help the team get better.”
It means getting the team into its offensive sets, picking up the ball defensively, and “being the head of the snake on both sides of the ball,” Jackson said.
Figuring it all out has been a nightly process.
“Just taking this challenge, day in and day out, head on,” he said.
In five starts coming into Wednesday night’s 109-94 win over the Celtics, Jackson had averaged 21.8 points, 7.4 assists, and 4.2 rebounds, all career highs but also all well above his career per-36 numbers. He scored 28 against the Celtics.
“Reggie can play,” said Thunder big man and former Celtic Kendrick Perkins. “He can flat-out play.”
The next step, Perkins said, is for Jackson to learn how to make the players around him better.
“Once he do that, he’ll take it to another level,” Perkins said. “Russ and KD ain’t learn that off the rip either. It took them time to learn that also. But Reggie is a guy who he’s capable of getting 20 points a night. But [Kevin Garnett] always told me, ‘Great players can get your 20 and get other people 10 too.’ ”
Jackson’s time in the starting lineup might be temporary, but with his rookie contract set to expire at the end of the season, it’s a chance to both study for the role and showcase himself as a true starter.
“I’m enjoying this role, comfortable with trying to figure this out and I’m just having fun with it right now,” he said. “I’m making the most of this opportunity and until we get fully healthy, we’re all just doing what we can to make this team progress and keep going and find ways to win, so that once everybody gets back we can just hit the ground running.”
Green has fan
Jeff Green broke up the media scrum before the game to give his former coach, Scott Brooks, a hug.
“Been a long time since I’ve seen you,” Green told Brooks. “How you been?”
“Been good,” Brooks told him. “Shooting a lot of threes, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” Green shot back. “Don’t leave me open. It’s going to continue to go up.”
Brooks smiled and joked back, “No longer that flat shot.”
It was playful, but looking at the player Green has become since leaving Oklahoma City in 2011, Brooks could see a more improved shooter.
Through the first six games, Green’s averaged 19.7 points on 45.4 percent shooting. He’s also putting up a career-high 6.7 3-pointers a game. He never took more than 3.8 a game in Oklahoma City.
“He doesn’t have that flat shot anymore,” Brooks pointed out again. “It took me years to tell him that’s not how you shoot. Obviously the staff here’s done a great job. He’s shooting the ball well.”
As much as Green’s shooting has come along, Brooks said Green’s strength always will be his across-the-board abilities.
“He’s a player that can do a little bit of everything,” Brooks said. “You have to understand that that’s his strength. He’s not going to be a great rebounder, he’s not going to be a great shooter, but he’s going to be good at all of them.
“So if you appreciate that type of talent, you’re going to be happy with him. I think he’s having a great start to the year. I’m hoping that he misses all of his shots tonight.”
Young rejoins team
James Young rejoined the team after missing the past two days of practice because of an illness in the family. Stevens said he spent extra time after the team’s walkthrough Wednesday making sure Young wouldn’t miss a beat after the time away. “It’s hard,” Stevens said. “It’s the part that we want to be the most sensitive to. We work for a great organization, one that prioritizes family. So that’s a huge part of it, and at the same time, you’re able to do your work effectively when your work calls, because you know you’re supported, but you know you’ve also got to be able to focus when that time comes.” . . . Marcus Thornton sat out after twisting his ankle in Tuesday’s practice and is still day-to-day.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.