With Russell Westbrook expected to miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season, a lot was going to be relied on what Reggie Jackson could do for the Thunder. He had proven he could be productive in the starting role in last year’s playoffs and entering his third season, was hoping to really build on that. The thought was that Jackson could become a Sixth Man of the Year candidate if he put up some big numbers as a starter before returning to his reserve role when Russ got back.
As fate would have it, Westbrook missed just two games and Jackson quickly went back to the sixth man role, where he has thrived. Jackson is averaging 11.6 points, 3.5 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game this season. He has helped lead the Thunder second unit into remaining strong despite the loss of Kevin Martin from a season ago.
Jackson has also changed the tide of games for the Thunder this season with big minutes off the bench. He scored 23 points vs. the Spurs in a 94-88 win. In December, Jackson has scored in double-figures in all five games as he is averaging 14.6 points and shooting 51.8 percent from the field.
While Jackson is coming on very strong of late, it’s looking more and more like his candidacy for Sixth Man of the Year will be among the tops in the league by the end of the season.
Last year’s winner, J.R. Smith, is really struggling so far this season as the Knicks are having a terrible season. Smith is averaging just 11.2 points per game on 34.8 percent shooting from the field.
One candidate that will once again be in the conversation this year is the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford. Crawford is third on his team averaging 16.0 points per game. It feels like Crawford could win this award by default with these numbers if someone else like Jackson doesn’t step up and make a strong case for it.
Heading into the season, there were a lot of players who were thought to have a chance at this award. But so far, a lot of those candidates have not been great. Luis Scola is averaging under nine points per game, so is Mo Williams and Tyreke Evans is a shade under 12 points per game.
If the award were to be given out right now, it should go to Isaiah Thomas over in Sacramento, who is averaging 17.8 points and 4.9 assists per game and hasn’t started yet this season. That should soon change though with Greivis Vasquez being shipped out in the Rudy Gay trade last night.
There are some other lurkers out there besides Thomas. Both Morris twins are averaging double-figures coming off the bench in Phoenix, Nate Robinson is the second leading scorer for the Nuggets and Taj Gibson is averaging 12.4 points and 6.7 boards per game for the Bulls.
Like many awards, it’s not just the numbers that help you win the Sixth Man of the Year. Being on a successful team plays a big part, and so does having the big moments like Jackson did vs. the Spurs.
The storyline that will help Jackson the most is the one where he keeps the Thunder bench as one of the best in the league, despite the departures of Martin and James Harden the last two seasons. Stepping into those shoes, and filling them nicely, will go a very long way for him.
Jackson is going to get the opportunity to win this award. Scott Brooks has the ball in his hands on every possession with the bench unit, and he is finishing most of the games as well. If his play in December is a sign for what we’re going to see the rest of the season, don’t be surprised if Jackson brings home the hardware by the end of the year.