How Reggie Jackson’s summer suddenly became a key to the Nuggets title defense
Nov 9, 2023, 2:57 AM | Updated: 2:58 am
DENVER—The Denver Nuggets need Reggie Jackson to turn back the clock and on Wednesday night he proved that he can still do it.
The 33-year-old guard nicknamed “Big Government,” is being relied upon to bail the Nuggets out of a bind; the team’s starting point guard Jamal Murray is slated to miss a month with a hamstring injury. Denver’s title defense, for now, rests partially in the hands of the veteran Colorado native.
Capping the most condensed portion of the team’s schedule this season, Jackson scored 20 points and tallied six assists as the Nuggets beat the Warriors 108-105 to move to 8-1 on the year. Jackson fought through foul trouble to play valiant defense on the perimeter-heavy champs from two seasons ago while meshing with Nikola Jokic in crunch time.
“Reggie has been fantastic for us, he plays with the starters and second unit and has a different role with each,” Micheal Malone. “He’s a scorer, he’s been one his whole career but most importantly he’s got six assists and no turnovers and that’s what you want from your starting point guard. I think Reggie having a whole offseason and training camp with us, he is much more comfortable now than he was coming in here last year and he was outstanding tonight.”
Jackson never found that fantastic play last season. He didn’t fit into the Nuggets rotation a season ago after being cut by the Los Angeles Clippers. Jackson was on the outside in SoCal due to a sequence that placed former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook on the Clips. The two famously beefed in OKC, forcing the backup point Jackson to be shipped to Detroit away from the team’s star.
At the time, a much younger Jackson was adamant about being a starter in the NBA—something he’d easily prove with the Pistons. Now Jackson is out to demonstrate he can belong with the NBA champs.
“Proving to myself that I can still play and that I can then I can be effective with this team, with the style of play,” a candid Jackson said Wednesday. “I think that goes back to my military background. I’ve been very blessed—growing up I didn’t know how much of a blessing was to move around a lot to play different styles always be the new kid that has to fit into his style. So everything didn’t always revolve around me… I got a lot of game from a lot of places and I think the funnest part of the game for me throughout my career is to try to be successful or find success while I was ever-adapting… I just wanted to prove that I could be effective and help this team.”
Jackson was cut from the star-driven Clippers despite scoring 18 points per game in a 19-game playoff run several months before. He has struggled before getting to Denver and Los Angeles had their eyes hot on somebody who would simply not play with Jackson again. So Jackson was picked up by the Nuggets at the season’s tail end to give the team some juice. He didn’t make a huge impact but did get into some playoff action when the team was in a pinch
“You always have to find chemistry with any All-Star that you play with, you have to figure out what they’re doing. Last year it took me a little longer to figure it out and then I found myself falling out of the lineup,” Jackson said. “I’m definitely not salty about that because I got a championship out of it. So I was happy about that for sure.”
Jackson got the ring, the one that has eluded each of his former star teammates in Westbrook, James Harden, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Paul George, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose. Kevin Durant of course wound up joining Golden State for one and Kawhi Leonard is a bonafide champion. Still, Jackson knows the league, and he’s smart enough to get in where he fits in.
“Once I fell out of lineup, it was just trying to figure it out,” he further explained. “You’re usually the quarterback when you’re a point guard on offense you see directly everything in front of you. You kind of make decisions and people have to trust your instincts that you put them in great positions, but now understanding that I’m more like a receiver and especially when you play with Nikola, and figuring out trying to understand what he sees as I’m playing.”
The key to understanding came to Jackson at the practice courts inside Ball Arena at the same Jokic was at his stables in Sombor, Serbia. Sure, Jackson celebrated just like how Aaron Gordon was paraded down streets in LoDo and Murray popped bottles, but it was Jackson’s time in the gym this summer that has created the newfound chemistry with his backflipping-into-rivers-big man.
“Being able to talk to the coaches even though I may not know all the plays right now, just be able to pick their brains and sit with them, talk about things that we were trying to do a second unit, things our team kind of does and plays having an understanding of our why and our purpose in the way that we play allows me to at least have a chance to try to find success with the first unit,” Jackson described. “I think being here in the summer has definitely benefited me and I’m very thankful that I spent my summer here with the team and being around our coaches and be around our young guys.”
Jackson gave a lot of credit to Jokic, Gordon, Michael Porter Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for treating him as a contemporary and integrating the goggles-wearing oldhead into the Blue Arrow’s spot.
The chemistry was thrown into the test tube late in the tight contest with the Warriors. Jackson wound up assisting or scoring Denver’s final three field goals of the game. First, he dished to Jokic at 4:22 for a seven-footer that gave the Nuggets the lead back at 99-97.
“I think he’s just that damn good that he making me look like I know what I’m doing out there with the team,” Jackson said.
Then Jokic twice returned the favor, hitting Jackson for layups with 2:33 and 1:09 left to ice it.
“It was funny, Jokic told me a few plays before, he’s like, ‘you’re gonna be open on this play that we drew up at a time out,'” Jackson recalled. “I didn’t get it but then he just kept telling me like be ready. So once he said that my mind had clicked to stay ready, stay looking, trying to see what he’s finding. It was funny because I’m looking for the weak side I’m looking for somebody to come help and I don’t think they wanted to leave AG, of course Mike was hot, we all know what Pope can do—he can get going at any given moment. I found myself the recipient of just probably the easiest basket.”
Jokic and Reggie Jackson run the give-and-go to perfection 👀
Nuggets lead late on ESPN pic.twitter.com/yq3WEu7Ylr
— NBA (@NBA) November 9, 2023
“One of the easiest baskets I’ve ever had in my career so it was funny, and then it happened again,” Jackson said. “And it was funny like the crowd I appreciate everybody’s cheering. We’re all hyped, but I was like, Yeah, I didn’t really do much, it was like you’re probably not that good of a player. You just make sure you’re in the right spot at the right time.”
Jackson will have to keep being in the right places at the right time for maybe another dozen games and most of Denver’s NBA Cup run given Murray’s timeline. Factoring the Nuggets 16-4 playoff record last season was built on the back of home court advantage, it’s key to the team that they maintain seeding. With the team’s backup point guard from a year ago in Bruce Brown now a Pacer, it’s Jackson with a wide runway to jet into a mainstay role all the while he could help the team take off early on their title defense.
It might just be playing a role and only nine games in, but Jackson has proven he’s still worthy of that. And the kid from Colorado Springs who once wrote “SPG” (starting point guard) on his shoes to tick off Westbrook and inspire himself—is now lead-guarding the NBA champions through autumn, even if it is as a wide receiver.
“This team is very special, it’s fun playing with his group,” Jackson said.