Explaining Reggie Jackson’s Spectacular Postseason

Seventeen months after being cut by the Pistons, Reggie Jackson is now a premiere player for the Clippers, and was one of the best playoff performers this season.

Reggie Jackson didn’t start during the Clippers’ first two playoff games this season. Instead, it was Patrick Beverley, a trade deadline acquisition. Rajon Rondo was the backup point guard, and Terrance Mann was the young, exciting, breakout-ready wildcard requesting increased minutes off the bench. It wasn’t clear how much minutes Jackson, a 31-year old playing on a veteran’s minimum contract after flaming out on the Pistons, would receive.

Fast-forward a couple weeks, and Jackson’s unexpected playoff performances have been an integral part of the Clippers’ recent comebacks from not one, but two 0–2 deficits during the postseason, and helped keep the Clippers alive in the Western Conference Finals despite Kawhi Leonard’s injury.

Jackson entered the starting lineup in Game 3 against the Mavericks, fostering the Clippers’ first series turnaround, and he remained a starter in the postseason ever since. Both his scoring and minutes have increased each postseason round.

Ever since Kawhi Leonard’s injury, Reggie Jackson ranks second to Paul George on the Clippers in minutes played, points, assists, and leads in plus-minus. He led all players this postseason in made 3-pointers, with 56, or 3.1 per game. Furthermore, he still plays with the cocky, immeasurable confidence of a point guard who once thought he deserved to start over Russell Westbrook on the Thunder.

So where did this Reggie Jackson performance come from? One of the NBA’s best playoff performers is not too different of a player this postseason compared to the regular season. He’s taking more 3-pointers in the postseason, with more than half of his shots now coming from beyond the arc, and he’s finishing better at the rim and shooting better in the midrange. But his shooting numbers don’t appear to be by surprise; in fact, his 3-point percentage was worse in the postseason (41.5 percent) than the regular season (43.3 percent).

Furthermore, his usage rate in the postseason (22.6 percent) is incredibly close to his regular-season usage rate (19.5), so it’s not like he’s being very ball dominant to begin with. Granted, he’s enjoying somewhat of a hot streak from 2-point range, but mostly he’s just playing more, taking advantage of an extra 10 minutes per game.

The results, for the Clippers and Reggie Jackson himself, have been spectacular. For example, Jackson has already posted nine games during the playoffs with 20-plus points, compared to just seven in the regular season. According to data, Reggie Jackson is the first player in NBA history with so many more 20-point games in the postseason after so few 20-point games in the regular season.

Jackson averaged 17.8 points during the postseason, far ahead of the 10.7 points he averaged in the regular season. The 7.1-point increase is solid but not unprecedented, ranking 24th all time among players with at least 10 playoff games in a season.

However, comparing Jackson to every other NBA player doesn’t quite capture his surprising, amazing rise. Before the postseason, Jackson was more of a glorified bench player at the back of the rotation. In the 2012–2013 season, the second-year point guard took over as the Thunder’s starting point guard after Russell Westbrook tore his meniscus. Despite never starting a game in his NBA career, Jackson went on to score in double figures in all nine of his starts that postseason.

Beyond these two postseason performances, Jackson hasn’t been much better in the playoffs than in the regular season. Last postseason, for example, Jackson was average against the Mavericks in the first round but scored just three total points across six games, and he eventually fell out of the rotation.

Overall, Jackson has scored 12.9 points per game in his playoff career, compared to 11.5 in his regular-season career. That’s only a slight increase. For example, 11 players with at least 20 career playoff games have increased their playoff scoring average by at least three points per game, with three modern superstars all ranking in the top four.

Jackson isn’t close to that group of superstars over his full career — but for a Clippers team that nearly came back against a Suns team aiming for its first NBA Finals appearance in 28 years, and for Reggie Jackson himself, aiming for a new lucrative deal in free agency this summer, none of that history matters.

What matters is that Jackson now appears to be the complete senseless confidence point guard — or actually, a very sensible confidence point guard, given his continued success. The Clippers would have lost a long time ago without him.

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