With their best player, Kawhi Leonard, sidelined due to a knee injury, the Los Angeles Clippers rattled off a pair of wins to eliminate the Utah Jazz in the 2020-21 postseason and were within shouting distance of the NBA Finals, falling to the Phoenix Suns in six games in the Western Conference Finals. A cast of players were responsible for the Clippers staying afloat sans Kawhi, including Paul George, Nicolas Batum, Terance Mann and Marcus Morris. But none exceeded expectations more than Reggie Jackson.
As Los Angeles approaches the 2021-22 regular season, with Kawhi scheduled to miss all or most of the year, Jackson will once again help determine to what degree the superstar wing’s absence is felt. Having drilled 42.9 percent of 345 triples, Jackson has been a dynamite long-range gunner during his year and a half with the Clippers and was a valuable tertiary option throughout last regular season, when he averaged 10.7 points on 57.6 percent true shooting.
Yet the evolution of his role and game during the playoffs was fascinating. Primarily a spot-up guy in the earlier stages and someone who served as a defensive liability, he cleaned up many of his defensive shortcomings and was a lethal on-ball creator by year’s end. He was drilling pull-ups and step-backs, floating in runners, and attacking the cup.
Across 19 contests, he averaged 17.8 points on 62.6 percent true shooting, including 40.8 percent from deep and a staggering 58.2 percent on twos. The dude went supernova and was a potent secondary scorer alongside George. In eight games without Leonard, the veteran guard was even better, posting a 21-4-4-1.5 line on .485/.369/.864 splits. He was a flamethrower during that stretch and vital to Los Angeles’ ability to remain highly competitive in spite of its franchise star’s injury.
Playoff runs are often beholden to small sample stardom like that, though. Expecting Jackson to scale up so well across an entire season and help the Clippers maintain an elite offense is a dubious proposition. He’s 31, has a lengthy injury history and, well, has never been as good as he was in the 2021 postseason. Perhaps, that is the springboard to a full year of step-backs, runners, and torrid shot-making. Sometimes, all a guy requires is the ideal opportunity and context to foster the self-belief necessary to thrive like he never had previously.
Collectively, those eight games following Kawhi’s injury should instill a sense of confidence that this Clippers squad can do more than just survive without him. They have a superstar in George. Tyronn Lue is a superb head coach. Good role players are scattered throughout the roster. Mann looks primed to follow his playoff emergence, which featured a 39-point detonation in the closeout Game 6 against Utah, with a third-year breakout.
Despite all those important components, Jackson’s ball-handling, shooting and creation are paramount to the Clippers maintaining such excellent play. In the playoffs, he broke down defenses, spaced the floor for others to attack, delivered when the ball swung his way for open looks, held up defensively, created for others and complemented George beautifully as offensive focal points. The Clippers constantly had opponents scrambling and Jackson was a primary reason for that.
Los Angeles seems to be conducive to success for him. But there are layers to success and what exactly it looks like for him this season could prove to be the differentiator between a Clippers team vying to avoid the play-in and one competing for homecourt advantage.