If you've been watching the Oklahoma City Thunder since the meniscus in Russell Westbrook's right knee ripped apart and put their championship hopes in danger, chances are you've watched at least one moment from his replacement, Reggie Jackson, that made you raise your eyebrows a bit.
How is it that a late first-round pick from the 2011 NBA draft has jumped into the starting lineup of the defending Western Conference champions without missing a beat?
Essentially he's doing what Jimmy Butler has done for the Chicago Bulls this year, only instead of having half a season to work his way into the team's rotation, Jackson was forced to double his minutes in the middle of the playoffs.
He's been impressive, there's no doubt. But how did he suddenly wrestle minutes away from Eric Maynor to emerge in the second half of the season as a formidable backup, and then jump out as a fine starter just a few months later?
Jackson's journey to Oklahoma City began years ago. As the son of a military man, he was born in Italy and spent most of his youth moving around, including short stays in North Dakota, Florida, Georgia and finally Colorado.
As is the norm for a player as athletic as Jackson, he absolutely dominated in high school. Averaging nearly 30 points and eight rebounds as a senior at Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, Jackson was named the 2007-08 Gatorade Colorado Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
He moved across the country to hop on board with Boston College.
Jackson's college experience wasn't nearly as majestic as his time with Oklahoma City has been, at least as far as team success goes.
The school made the NCAA tournament in his freshman year (2008-09), getting knocked out in the first round by a USC squad featuring Taj Gibson, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic.
By the time Jackson became the full-fledged star of the team in 2010, they were severely deficient defensively, with the team more or less dependent on his production. Going into his junior season, he had extremely high hopes for his underrated Boston College squad, even seeing it as a potential dark-horse candidate to make its way into the Final Four.
An early-season loss to Yale in which Jackson scored 30 points was exemplary of what the season would turn into: flashes of brilliance ultimately leading to a disappointing result.
The team won 21 games, failed to make the NCAA tournament and lost in the second round of the NIT Tournament to Northwestern. Jackson scored just eight points in his final game with the Eagles.
Jackson declared for the draft soon thereafter, which is when things started to get strange.
The spry young point guard underwent knee surgery in mid-May, and even after recovering he ended up canceling workouts with teams picking in the lottery and in latter portion of the first round.
Everybody soon found out the reason; He was already tabbed by Oklahoma City, and that's where he wanted to land (via SI.com's Sam Amick).
Numerous executives are speculating that the Thunder (No. 24 pick) have given a promise to Boston College's Reggie Jackson, whose camp has refused all workouts and made it known that the point guard already has an NBA home somewhere. The logic leading them there relates to Oklahoma City's bigger picture. It's believed that the Thunder are preparing for life without backup point guard Eric Maynor because of the finances in play.
And now, numerous reports indicate that Jackson's representatives refused to share medical records with various teams. Not surprisingly, an executive from one team with interest in Jackson told SI.com that "a lot of people don't believe he was ever injured" and that numerous teams were put off by the way his situation was handled.
Jackson was drafted at 24th, and Oklahoma City was his new home.
His first year with the Thunder was full of garbage minutes, a huge learning curve and people continually gushing about his wingspan (his 6'3" frame sprouts arms that measure out to 7'1" from fingertip to fingertip).
However, Jackson was stuck behind Westbrook, Maynor and eventually Derek Fisher once the playoffs came around. He racked up 501 minutes in his rookie season and never saw the floor in the playoffs.
This year has been a completely different monster.
By late December, Jackson had nearly made Maynor redundant in Oklahoma City's rotation, completely switching roles with him altogether from 2012 to 2013.
Maynor was traded on February 21st, unofficially making Jackson the full-time backup to Westbrook.
Once Westbrook went down after the second game of the playoffs, Jackson had put in the minutes as a backup, but now it was time for him to be tested as a starter.
He has made plenty of mistakes in the playoffs thus far, there's no doubt about that. However, to claim that he's done anything other than an admirable job as Oklahoma City's de facto point guard would be shortsighted.
A lot of Oklahoma City's success throughout the rest of the playoffs depends on how well Jackson is able to cope, but a lot of its success so far is thanks to his ability to step in and play.
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