The Reggie Jackson-OKC Beef and What James Harden Has to Do With It

Reggie Jackson’s vanity was on full display earlier in the week when he played a home game against his former team, the OKC Thunder, and towards the end of the game Jackson celebrated as if it was either the NBA Finals game 7 or he won a $300.00 million dollar lottery prize. Jackson hadn’t acted that sophomoric all season long, so it’s a safe guess to say the OKC Thunder bring out the worst in him.

Sensitive and always looking to lay blame beyond himself, Jackson has a distorted view of his OKC tenure. He came in as a James Harden sixth man replacement and was nothing like Harden. He was resentful and ambitious and thin skinned. Like many NBA players of Jackson’s talent, he had a grandiose opinion of what his true ceiling was, thinking he was a star, married to the idea he was better than Russell Westbrook, wanting to be a starter even though the OKC starter at his position was better than him in every single way.

Westbrook is a better point guard, scorer, leader and more importantly, teammate. Westbrook would never have written on his tennis shoes the letters SPG (starting point guard) if he had been the backup. It showed zero respect. It was a defiant line in the sand and was foreshadowing Jackson’s ambitions, and it was a threat to the front office to trade him.

2015-16 Points FG% Assists Assist% PER
Reggie Jackson (Pistons) 18.5 43.3% 6.2 36.0% 19.5
Russell Westbrook (Thunder) 23.8 45.4% 10.4 49.2% 27.9

When he left OKC, when they traded him, Reggie Jackson sobbed, that’s how happy he was to ditch Oklahoma. But instead of turning the page like most mature players do- sometimes fits are all wrong- he has harbored this malefic resentment that rises to the surface every time he meets the Thunder. As if he is a Shakespearean actor in some tragedy, Jackon acts out his revenge fantasy on stage which makes him look ridiculous.

I’m not bothered that Kevin Durant called Jackson’s end of the game theatrics, “bush league” and that Westbrook said he would deal with him at a later date. When it comes to Reggie Jackson, Durant and Westbrook are emotional too. He rejected them and their culture. However, it must be pointed out that Jackson and his team won the game. He had every right to celebrate. It was a big win for the Pistons, not just because Jackson had a one game bragging right over the team he claims railroaded him and made him the scapegoat for everything that went wrong, but the Pistons are fighting for the lower half of the East and the opportunity to get swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Jackson should have been pumped. He should not have been classless though. Often, his emotions get the better of him and he can’t dial it back.

But to Jackson’s point. When he was with OKC and wanted to be a starter, was he a better point guard than Russell Westbrook? No. No, in every language. No, in Mandarin. No, in Swahili. No in Portugese. Hell, no.

Jackson got what he wanted, a starting point guard gig and good for him but what has been on display in Detroit is what the Thunder knew all along. He is not James Harden.

When James Harden left the Thunder, his first year with the Rockets, Harden was a 25.9 point, 5. 8 assist player with a PER of 23.0. Harden was an All-Star.

When Reggie Jackson left the Thunder, his first full year with the Pistons, he is a 18.5 point, 6.2 assist player with a PER of 19.5. No All-Star.

The disparity makes all the sense in the world because the talent levels are not equal. Harden was a lottery pick, the 3rd pick taken in the 2009 draft. Reggie Jackson was the 24th pick in the 2011 draft. Both players were taken at the appropriate slot. Harden, a perennial All-Star at the top, Reggie Jackson, a quality point guard, near the end of the first round. The problem is, Reggie Jackson thinks he’s James Harden. But he’s not. Being a starter doesn’t mean you are a NBA star. That’s a distinction Reggie Jackson never wanted to acknowledge.

This is a point guard era and Jackson rates a little higher than average. As a floor leader he has the 12th best PER. He’s 14th in field goal percentage, 9th in points, 11th in assists (tied with Elfrid Payton of the Magic) and 42nd in steals.

He makes contested shots but shoots 39.8% on shots when he is wide open. His drives to the rim are equal to Westbrook and he shoots from close range nearly 50% on such drives, same as Westbrook. But Jackson’s Value Added (VA) which estimates how many points a single player is responsible for over the course of a season when compared to a replacement player is 287.7 and Westbrook’s is 662.5.

Player Rankings, 2015-16 Points 3-Point % Assists Steals Value Added
James Harden 2nd 102nd 6th 16th 629.2
Reggie Jackson 26th 88th 14th 42nd 287.7
Russell Westbrook 8th 137th 2nd 5th 662.5

So why exactly did Reggie Jackson believe he should start for the Thunder when by every single metric Russell Westbrook is the better player and the more talented?

Westbrook has 16 triple doubles, Jackson has none. Marcus Smart, Elfrid Payton and Raymond Felton have been able to notch one triple double this year. Jackson isn’t a rebounding guard, ranking 24th, so a triple double will probably not be on his radar, particularly playing with Andre Drummond.

More telling in the Reggie Jackson narrative is his defense. It’s awful. He’s the 60th best defensive point guard, worse than Ish Smith and D.J. Augustin (Defensive Real Plus-Minus). In January, February and March, his defensive rating was an 111.3 average. Over that same period of time, Russell Westbrook’s defensive rating was 106.3. Westbrook’s DRPM rates him as the sixth best defensive point guard.

None of this is new. There is this push and pull with players. Some would rather be on a title team and win as many rings as possible. Others go for the glory, led by their ego. That was the Reggie Jackson staying in his lane reality. While James Harden was eventually traded because the money couldn’t work itself out, there was no animosity or bad blood, no anger or bitterness, no sobbing and definitely no grandstanding to flatter himself because that’s how he gets off.

Harden is self-rewarded by winning games and trying to guide his team to a title. Reggie Jackson is in it for himself. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s his choice. But no titles will be coming his way until he discovers humility.


photo via llananba