PRYOR, OK —
If you remember watching baseball in the 1970s or have watched a World Series since, you've heard of a guy named Reggie Jackson.
Jackson is famous for blasting huge home runs, and especially his three-homer show in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series to clinch the series against the Dodgers. It's clutch performances like that three-homer game that led Yankee catcher Thurman Munson to dub him "Mr. October."
Well, skip forward about 36 years and you'll find that there is another Reggie Jackson feeling pressure to perform well in the playoffs, only this time, it's basketball, and he plays for the Thunder.
The smallish backup point guard celebrated his 23rd birthday on April 16, and a week later got a big surprise in the form of Russell Westbrook's torn meniscus against the Rockets in Game 2 of their first round series.
I can only imagine the conversation he and Thunder head coach Scott Brooks had last Friday, when word was handed down he would be getting his first NBA start.
It's a lot of pressure for someone in his shoes. But the organization clearly has a lot of faith in him — and he's filled a role thanks to a knee injury before.
In 2011, Reggie was chosen with the Thunder's first pick in the draft, 24th overall, to be a backup to a backup. Eric Maynor, at the time, was firmly entrenched as Westbrook's understudy, an extremely capable spark off the bench who went down in an early game in the 2011-2012 season with an ACL injury against, ironically, the Rockets.
Jackson, who saw plenty of time in Tulsa with the 66ers, was mediocre at best in his short burns off the pine in January and February before the Thunder acquired veteran Derek Fisher. Fisher was also mediocre at best but provided the leadership and experience behind Westbrook that Jackson lacked.
(These are probably the nicest words I've ever written, or ever will write, about D-Fish.)
The Thunder made the Finals with Fish and Jackson, but fell short against the Heat.
In 2012-13, Jackson moved into a primary backup role when Maynor, clearly slowed by his lingering injury, failed to be the solid backup he was in prior years. Jackson's progress has accelerated wonderfully, evidenced by the deja vu re-signing of Fisher.
This time around it was Jackson, not Fisher, that firmly cemented his spot as the second-unit showrunner. He has played quantity, if not consistently quality, minutes in every game since Dec. 19 (he was still third-banana behind Westbrook and Maynor for the first part of this season). He has increased his scoring, assists and rebounds steadily over the season.
Not many of my media peers have made much noise about Reggie, even though he is stepping into the boots of one of the best point guards in the league at the most crucial juncture in the season.
Well, Reggie, this writer has honestly been a believer ever since you were drafted. Let's see if you can make some noise of your own.