Five games into this season, I texted my best friend that Reggie Jackson was fool’s gold and that the Clippers would miss the playoffs over it. Less than a month later, I made a Facebook post about how Jackson should be a candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.
That story may be more indicative of my wildly emotional Clippers fandom than anything else, but Jackson’s play this year played no small part in my mini-outbursts.
Before the loss to the Pelicans last night, Jackson’s previous five games had been a microcosm of his season and entire stint with the Clippers so far. In order, he scored: 4 points (2-11), 23 points (8-14), 31 points (12-23), 21 points (8-19), and 0 points (0-5).
For three games, Jackson played like a fringe All-NBA point guard. The issue is, those were sandwiched between two games in which he didn’t look like an NBA player at all.
Playing alongside non-shooter Ivica Zubac and shouldn’t-be-shooter Eric Bledsoe in the starting lineup, Jackson’s pick-and-roll decisions, crazy shot-making, and control of the offense’s pace has looked elite in more games than not. That being said, his bad games have dragged his shooting down just under 40%, and he seems to find himself in more “in-the-air-with-no-one-to-pass-it-to-and-no-way-to-get-a-shot-off” situations than anyone else in the league.
There was no shortage of “Wedgie Jackson” jokes on Twitter after Jackson mind-bogglingly wedged two straight shots between the rim and the backboard in overtime against the Mavs, but that sequence really was a reminder of just how crazy Jackson’s 2021 has been.
Just six months ago, Jackson was in the middle of a shooting slump and down 0-2 in a first round series against the Mavericks. He’d just come off a regular season in which he averaged 10.7 points, his lowest since his second season in the league. A free agent after the season, he seemed destined to chase rings coming off the bench on veteran minimum contracts for a couple of years before ultimately hanging it up.
Then, head coach Ty Lue inexplicably inserted Jackson into the starting lineup, and everything changed.
During the rest of the Clippers’ playoff run, the 31-year-old played the best basketball of his life, averaging 19 points on nearly 50-40-90 shooting splits. He was even better after Kawhi Leonard tore his ACL, and in just six weeks he went from being an okay role player to being the second option, behind his best friend, Paul George, on a team that nearly made the Finals.
Clippers fans quickly got used to Jackson’s nasty stepbacks, shrewd passes, and crafty finishes, and the front office gave him a $22 million contract to try to help the team make its elusive first NBA Finals.
So far this season, the Clippers have gone as Jackson goes. They’re 10-3 when Jackson scores 18+ points and 1-7 when he doesn’t.
Jackson remains one of the NBA’s most confounding players, and his role after Leonard returns from a partially torn ACL will likely be the difference between a first-round exit and a deep playoff run.