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2020-21 Clippers season in review: Reggie Jackson

From slumping veteran to vital contributor.

2021 NBA Playoffs - LA Clippers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to our annual Clippers season in review series. Every day until the end of July, we’ll be taking a look back at the players who ended the season with the Clippers (apologies to Malik Fitts and Mfiondu Kabengele). Today, we continue with Reggie Jackson.

Key information:

Name: Reggie Jackson

Age: 31

Years in the NBA: 10

Key stats: Jackson was a fixture in the LA Clippers’ rotation, playing in 67 regular season games (43 starts), averaging 10.7 points per game and 3.1 assists in 23 minutes per night. He shot 45 percent from the field and hit a career high of 43.3 percent from 3-point range.

Future contract status: Jackson is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Summary:

The 2020-21 season was a real roller-coaster for Jackson. After a poor 2020 NBA Playoffs in the bubble, the guard looked like he was dealing with a hangover to start the next regular season. There were times early in the season when I wondered if he was truly going to contribute anything on the court to the team.

But I was too hasty in that initial assessment, honestly. Jackson had a few bumps early in the season, but he not only played himself into a rhythm, he became a vital player and yes, a game-winner at times as the season progressed.

In fact, on a team in which the pecking order was Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the rest of the team, Jackson fully emerged to become the most consistent third scoring option on the team during the season. Going from a player who went from possibly sliding down to being the 10th or 11th man to a key contributor, Jackson was vital in the Clippers’ best-ever season.

Strengths:

We knew when Jackson was on a bad Detroit Pistons team that he could be a scorer, but after joining the Clippers there was an acclimation process and coming as it did in the middle of a pandemic, I suppose he should have been given some more slack.

But in terms of his strengths, Jackson not only became a more efficient shooter in terms of raising his field goal and 3-point percentage, his ability to slot into both the point guard and shooting guard spots as a shoot-first player fit the Clippers’ style very well. While I would never consider him a pure point guard in terms of facilitating play, Ty Lue didn’t seem especially interested in that role by and large anyway, and the flexibility gave Jackson a chance to find his mojo, which he did.

While the Clippers’ approach to spread the load around the supporting players makes a certain kind of sense, what tended to happen in the middle of the season, with Leonard and George each missing considerable time, was that the team would get static and no player was eager to really take the game over. And that’s where Jackson thrived. Even with the two stars around, Jackson did more than his share of pushing the tempo when LA needed a boost, of embarking on rallies and doing what he needed to do in terms of shooting, pushing the ball upcourt, and yes, even making important stops on defense.

So Jackson’s overall average stats are lower than his actual impact as the season wore on and he got more comfortable. To wit, in the playoffs, his scoring averages in each series were substantially higher than in the regular season: 15.4 points per game vs. the Dallas Mavericks, 18 ppg vs. the Utah Jazz, and 20.3 ppg against the Phoenix Suns. His minutes per game were way up, too, as he averaged more than 30 minutes in the playoffs, to reflect his growing importance.

In short, Jackson came good, showed he could be a good contributor on a good team, and has probably played his way to another decent contract despite being over 30.

Weaknesses:

The easy answer here is that Jackson’s defense flags at times, but you know what? Compared to how bad his defense was in the playoff bubble, his defense was pretty solid this past season, and his confident play on offense seemed to help fuel an improved ability to defend. In other words, he was not a consistent weak link on defense for the Clippers.

I think he has turned a corner, and again, we should probably account for his move to the Clippers coming right around the time the pandemic hit a little more, but when he was out of rhythm he was really out of rhythm. Being a liability on defense and jacking bricks to start the season, carrying over from his tough start to life as a Clipper, was what made me think he just wasn’t going to be a contributor. So if he falls that far out of a rhythm again, it would obviously be a concern.

But again, I think if he gets time and the right role, he can thrive. He’s both old enough and mature enough to know that he has to take advantage of the time he has left to play in the NBA, and I don’t expect to see him slumping badly again if he can stay healthy and get or stay in the right situation.

Future with the Clippers:

Who knows? I think there’s a good thing here for him and the Clippers, assuming LA don’t have to really shell out on a new deal and assuming he’s no longer interested in putting up big stats on a bad team.

But he came on strong over the course of his contract year and I would not be shocked if other contenders put feelers out for Jackson. His friendship with George may help the Clippers retain his services, but it’s still a business for all parties and we’ll have to see what happens.