A little over one year to the date that Reggie Jackson signed his two-year, $22 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Clippers, John Wall exited the Witness Protection Program and signed a two-year, $13.2 million contract with the team.
Now Wall hasn’t done a whole lot in the past few seasons to prove that he is even remotely close to the All-Star caliber player he once was while with the Washington Wizards. But that’s also, at least partly, not his fault. Chalk that up to load management or blatant tanking, but the Houston Rockets went out of their way to ensure that Wall’s minutes would be confined to scenarios in which his production would be all but pointless.
And yet, he was productive enough that Wall’s arrival in Los Angeles almost immediately raised questions about whether or not he would start at point guard, or if that position would still belong to Jackson. On one hand, Jackson has been a mainstay in the Clippers rotation for multiple seasons, and Wall is just now getting acclimated. On the other hand, Lue has yet to commit to a starter at the point, practically announcing every other starter other than his backcourt general.
Ty Lue says Marcus Morris is the Clippers starting power forward to start the season.— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) October 4, 2022
Point guard sounds like the only spot up for grabs.
As the season nears its start, so too does the need for a starter. Both Wall and Jackson have their pluses and minuses, but who comes out on top in the end? We’ve already previewed what Wall’s season could look like. Now comes the time for Jackson: what might his third full season as a Clipper have in store?
What is the best-case scenario for Jackson?
Sometimes it’s just easier to be blunt: the best-case scenario for Jackson is to have a season that makes people forget about what he did — or didn’t do — last year.
Out of 41 qualified players last season with at least a 25 percent usage rate, Jackson was dead last in true shooting percentage (48.8), just over a full percentage point behind the 40th-ranked player in that group, Cade Cunningham (50.4). That’s a level of offensive inefficiency that can’t persist, particularly from a player whose responsibilities tend to start and stop with scoring.
But we’re talking about the best-case scenario here, and for Jackson to regain his footing as a shooter should be the baseline expectation. After all, he recorded his best season in terms of shooting percentages just two years ago in 2020-21. Of course, that was a season in which he was fortunate enough to play alongside his All-Star teammates Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (another baseline expectation in an ideal world), a definite factor in his productivity. But Jackson has played some of his best basketball in far less-fortunate situations over the course of his career.
Think about what he did with the Detroit Pistons in 2015-16 and 2018-19; he was the best player on both of those squads, and despite results one might otherwise call middling, those teams made the playoffs. Even though they were eight seeds, that those teams qualified for the postseason is about as miraculous as either Leonard or George making appearances in all 82 games of a regular season campaign.
Jackson served as the Pistons’ go-to scorer and playmaker. If it was his play as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder at the beginning of his career that netted him his first big contract, it was the time he put in in Detroit that made that contract seem like anything but a managerial error.
If Jackson can find a happy medium between what he provided in Detroit and what he’s done so far in Los Angeles, he’ll become the exact type of player that this team needs: a scorer when called upon, and an on-demand distributor otherwise (getting Jackson back above five assists per game could be huge for the Clippers offense). All things considered, the best-case scenario might be stability.
What is the worst-case outcome?
Two postseasons ago, Reggie Jackson was arguably the most important player on the Clippers' roster. Not because he was their best; that honor and the responsibilities that came with it belonged to Paul George. Jackson was, however, the team’s second-most reliable playmaker and all-around threat. He scored a postseason career-high 17.8 points per game and saw a shocking jump in minutes from the previous postseason (32.7 minutes per in 2021 as opposed to just 14.2 in 2020).
That season, Jackson was also the Clippers’ best point guard, despite the fact that he played on a team that boasted a rotation of Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, and Rajon Rondo, all of whom fought for minutes at the point. Jackson’s skillset made him more dexterous than the other three, so finding his shot and getting touches wasn’t necessarily going to be a problem.
That Clips’ team, however, wasn’t nearly as deep as this 2022-2023 team is about to be. And that team didn’t have John Wall as an option at point, nor did it have a version of Jackson that was just coming off of his worst season.
The worst-case scenario for Jackson isn’t just losing minutes, shots, and touches — all of which he’s likely to do given that Ty Lue’s new and improved squad can arguably run 12 to 13 deep. It’s losing all of the above and playing like he played last season, thus rendering his future with the franchise in doubt.
In case we’ve forgotten, Jackson is in a contract year; the team will have some decisions to make on their end. But oftentimes, players can control their own destinies in these situations. Does Jackson fall into the category of guys balling out and cashing out because of it, or guys struggling to solidify their place in a deep rotation and all but falling out of it altogether?
The latter being the case — given Jackson’s track record and proven ability to rebound from down stretches — is less likely than him having a career year and nabbing another big contract, whether with the Clips or elsewhere. But that’s exactly what worst-case scenarios are: the opposite of the ideal, no matter how likely they are to come true.
What do you think is the most likely role for Jackson?
For whatever reason, it feels as though Jackson will begin the 2022-23 season as the Clippers’ starting point guard, before being subtly phased out in favor of John Wall. And depending on how he plays his cards — not to mention how they’re dealt his way — he should be able to leverage what I’d deem his inevitable sixth-man role into a Sixth Man of the Year-worthy season.