It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the 23-year-old since he stepped into Russell Westbrook’s shoes. In the first five games, Jackson struggled on the offensive end. He was worn out from guarding opposing point guards–Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard, Deron William and Ricky Rubio‒which in turn, abated his offensive production. He averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists during this stretch and led the Thunder to a 3-2 record.
The speed of play was too fast and arduous for Jackson to control. On defense, he was going up against the best point guards in the league, not their back-ups. These players were stronger, faster and technically more gifted than those Jackson was used to.
His inexperience was on display in a loss at the Chesapeake Energy Arena to the struggling Brooklyn Nets. Jackson’s assignment was to slow down nine year veteran, Deron Williams. Jackson failed. Williams made 59 percent of his shots and scored a season high 29 points.
Jackson’s inability to put up big numbers had Thunder fans praying for Westbrook’s speedy recovery. But that changed in an instance. Jackson put on his big boys shoes, forgot about his disappointing displays, and went berserk against the Celtics.
The former Boston College point guard made nine of his 12 shots–3-3 from three point range–in 31 minutes. However, he only registered two assists.
Against the Celtics two assists by your point guard might get you a win, but Scoot Brooks knows his team won’t be able to take down an elite team if Jackson doesn’t become more of a facilitator.
Jackson effectiveness on the court was pivotal because it meant Kevin Durant and Derek Fisher got some much-needed rest. In Oklahoma City’s 115-111 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Durant had to play 43 minutes. The super-star was on the court for 27 minutes against Boston.
Fisher, 39, is coming off two games in which he played 23 and 25 minutes, but because Jackson was so efficient, he only played 19 minutes against the Celtics.
Although Jackson isn’t a proven leader in the NBA, he proved he was capable of being a leader during the Orlando Summer League championship. He led his team to the championship against the Houston Rockets.
Jackson has to use all the confidence he’s cumulated since pre-season to lead the Thunder until Westbrook returns. His performance against the Celtics should be used as a trigger mechanism to catapult himself and Oklahoma City to the league’s summit.