Making the jump from the college basketball to the NBA can be a daunting challenge for any rookie and for Reggie Jackson it's no different. The Oklahoma City Thunder backup point guard was OKC's first-round pick (24th overall) in the 2011 NBA Draft after a solid collegiate career at Boston College.
He came to a team considered one of the favorites to win the 2012 NBA title and considering he would be playing behind Thunder starting point man Russell Westbrook and talented backup Eric Maynor, his prospects for playing much as a rookie didn't appear very bright.
But after Maynor tore his ACL earlier this season, Jackson immediately moved into the role as Westbrook's back-up and while he still doesn't see a ton of minutes, he is definitely making progress. In 15 games, he is averaging 3.7 points, 1.3 assists and 1.3 rebounds in just over 11 minutes per game.
Jackson's best game in the Association to date came in a 108-96 win over the Spurs on Jan. 8 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, when he had 11 points and four assists, both career-highs for the young floor general.
He also performed well off the bench (7 points, 2 rebounds) for OKC in a 95-86 win in Dallas on Wednesday night in a battle of Western Conference heavyweights.
While there are still some growing pains, much like there is with any player new to the NBA, Thunder head coach Scott Brooks sees much to like about the 21-year-old Jackson.
"See improvement, there's a learning curve for every player in this league when they come in. It's a tough position to play, backup point, because you don't get a lot of minutes. You don't have time to really get eight, nine, 10 minutes at a time," Brooks said. "He's done a good job. He has to keep working, keep improving and he's done that. He's working with our coaches. He's getting better every game."
And how does the man who he's backing up feel about his play thus far? Well, he offers a pretty rave review in his own right, but also offers a bit of advice to his young teammate.
"He can play," Westbrook said. "He knows the game. He just has to be able to go out there and play mind free."
Daequan Cook is another member of the OKC bench and he too is pretty impressed with what Jackson has brought to the floor thus far.
"He's pretty good, man. Pretty good guard, learning the game as he plays, getting used to it and he's becoming a lot more comfortable playing the game," Cook said. "He's still learning but he's doing a great job of it and really helping out with the second unit."
Along with Ryan Reid, Jackson is one of two rookies on the Thunder. But where that might make him a target for hazing andor other rookie rites of passage on other teams like carrying bags, buying coffee, sandwiches and the like, that's not the case for Jackson.
"No, not really, we don't make him do anything like that. He hangs out with us. We don't make him too much, probably a few runs (for food or coffee) here and there, but nothing too out the way," Cook said.
That's a far cry from what the ex-Buckeye experienced during his rookie season in Miami not all that long ago.
"A little bit, Alonzo (Mourning) had me do a little bit and Shaq did too but nothing too crazy, just making food runs and stuff," Cook said.
For most rookies, being drafted by a team that is a legitimate contender for an NBA title is a dream come true. However, that ecstasy is usually tempered a bit by the harsh reality that coming to such a talented team is a double-edged sword for most rookies. Sure, they are with a team that wins on a regular basis, but that usually means minutes are fairly hard to come by.
That is definitely the case for Thunder rookie point man Reggie Jackson. But with the recent injury to Eric Maynor, the former Boston College standout's prospects are now looking up. If he can continue his steady upswing, then not only will he be able to spell starter Russell Westbrook down the stretch a bit more, but he'll also have a solid impact off the bench and depth is never a bad thing for any contender, is it?