The Perfect Imperfect Option
The Knicks search for a long term answer at point guard probably won't be answered this summer, but it doesn't mean they can't serviceably bridge the gap.
Good morning, and I hope your holiday weekend was great. We had a slow news day on Monday as the NBA prepares for a Finals matchup between the Suns and Bucks, starting tonight. In Knicks land, the attention remains focused on the trade front, the draft, and of course, free agency, which is what we’ll focus on today.
As always, if you’re not a full subscriber but would like to become one in time for the draft (just 24 days away!) and the start of free agency a week later, you know what to do:
Now let’s get to Mr. October…
The Perfect Imperfect Option
Everyone loves a good old NBA statistical comparison. Some are even quite useful. Others, not so much…
Thad Young aside though, I’m generally here for these things, even if just for amusement’s sake.
So when I discovered this weekend that Reggie Jackson (the impending Clipper free agent point guard, not the MLB’s all-time strikeout leader) had accomplished something that no NBA player had before him, I have to say I was a bit intrigued.
Here’s the stat: this postseason, Reggie Jackson became the first player ever to:
Appear in at least 19 playoff games
Average at least 17 points per game
Hit at least three 3-pointers per game
Dish at least three assists per game
Have at least a 59.9 effective field goal percentage the whole time
Are we being a little picky here? Of course. Does it make the accomplishment irrelevant? I don’t think so, no.
If we drop the “games played” requirement to “more than one playoff series,” we get one additional entrant: Steph Curry, who hit these marks over the course of 17 games in the 2017 playoffs. Like Jackson, he had exactly a 59.9 effective field goal percentage, but did so while averaging 28 points, 6.7 assists and 4.2 made threes.
If we drop the made 3-pointers requirement from three to two, but keep it at players who made it to at least the second round, we add these names to Reggie and Steph: LeBron in 2020 and 2017, KD in 2017, Kyle Lowry in 2018 and Kawhi this season.
If we drop the eFG% from 59.9 to a more manageable 58.0, we add a few more: James Harden this season, Jokic & Murray last season, KD in 2019, Kawhi in 2017, and Joe Johnson and Jason Terry in 2005.
If there’s something close to a comp for Jackson on this list, it’s Terry. The Jet had a four-year stretch immediately before his 2005 playoff run with Dallas where he averaged 18 & 6 and then won a title in Big D six years later as their second leading scorer after Dirk.
Similarly, Reggie had a four-year stretch of 16 & 5, but unlike Terry, nearly bottomed out before catching on with LA. After Kawhi went down in these playoffs, he was the Clips’ second banana to PG13, averaging 21.4 points and 4.4 dimes in LA’s final eight games.
The question now begs to be asked: was this a Don’t Call it a Comeback reminder from the guy Detroit once considered a cornerstone piece to their foundation, or was it a six-week hot streak by a player who was punching far above his weight class?
Any such conversation has to begin with an acknowledgement that this was arguably the perfect situation for Jackson at this point in his career. He had the best of both worlds: premier shot creators sopping up defensive attention so he could cook, but also no pressure to create on a regular basis.
He also quite clearly found a home in LA, as his tearful postgame comments after the Clippers were eliminated made clear:
But for as much as these were the words of man who knew he had just finished perhaps the most perfect season he would ever have, they also evinced someone who had grown a great deal - a far cry from the brash young player who wrote “SPG” on his sneakers to indicate his preferred role on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
For Jackson, it’s now all about what comes next. He is 30 years old, not young for a point guard, but also with just 15,664 minutes’ worth of tread on the tires thanks to lots of time off the bench and in the trainer’s room over the course of his career.
But he is as healthy as he has ever been, having started 43 of the 67 games he appeared in this season, averaging 23 minutes in those contests. Just as importantly, he’s had a 55.4 effective field goal percentage in 84 regular season games as a Clipper, and we now have a three-year sample size that his 3-point shooting is for real:
2018-19, 82 games for DET: 36.9 percent on 7.4 attempts per 36 minutes
2019-20, 14 games for DET: 37.8 percent on 7.7 attempts per 36 minutes
2019-20, 17 games for LAC: 41.3 percent on 6.3 attempts per 36 minutes
2020-21, 67 games for LAC: 43.3 percent on 6.6 attempts per 36 minutes
If we look back to his placement with all those future Hall-of-Famers on the above list, while he’s obviously nowhere close to that level, the larger sample size from the past few seasons does allow us to draw a few conclusions.
Most importantly, he can stretch a defense, both as a catch & shoot threat and off the dribble:
In the prime of his career, less than half of Reggie’s triples were assisted. While he’s reverted back to the norm a bit, he still very much has an off the dribble game in his bag, and roughly one in every six 3-pointers as a Clipper has come without the benefit of an assist.
This proficiency from deep has several trickle down effects that open up the rest of Jackson’s game. As we see here, he has the ability to punish teams that either switch or go under on the pick and roll.
Because opponents fear Jackson’s outside shot, it opens up other avenues for him to inflict chaos. Three dimes per game isn’t much, and most of his playoff assists came on made threes from teammates, but Jackson also reminded us that he can still hit the dive man on the pick and roll just fine:
Perhaps most vitally as a Tom Thibodeau point guard, when Jackson wasn’t shooting from deep in this postseason, he was driving, totaling 7.8 drives per game (32nd in the playoffs) and 2.1 field goal attempts on those plays (29th). These numbers bumped up from his regular season figures of 5.4 and 1.3, but those were achieved in only 23 minutes of action as opposed to 32 in the playoffs.
All of this is evidence that if nothing else, Reggie Jackson can be a serviceable starting point guard on a good team where he is the third or fourth option on offense, and still has it in him to step up in weight class if and when the situation requires. For the Knicks, that might just be a perfect combination…especially if the price is right.
As I’ve written on a lot over the last year, there is no ideal long term answer at the point guard position available for the Knicks this summer. That’s why Lonzo Ball, a nice player who doesn’t profile as an ideal fit for Thibs, has moved to the top of everyone’s wish list by default. He’ll also cost more than $20 million annually and require a four-year commitment.
All the other options are not only imperfect, but costly ones at that. Kyle Lowry, perhaps the best fit, may seek upwards of $30 million a season. He is 35.
Jackson is five years younger and can probably be had for half as much. As Bobby Marks noted recently on Twitter, there is a limit to what the Clippers can offer to retain his services, and the market for point guards may not leave him with many other options for a significant raise.
Looking around the league, there aren’t many teams that can offer Jackson a significant raise over the $10 million LA can give him - let’s say $15 million annually - and a guaranteed starting spot on a playoff contender:
Miami Heat: They have restricted free agent Kendick Nunn and unrestricted FA Goran Dragic to figure out, not to mention Victor Oladipo, but if they want to pivot to Jackson, they’ll have the space to do so.
Chicago Bulls: Tomas Satoranksy is under contract for another season, although only half of his $10 million salary is guaranteed. Do they want to keep trying to make Coby White a starting point guard? Thy can’t be ruled out.
Dallas Mavericks: They’d be a great fit, but if re-signing Timmy is a priority, they only have cap space if Josh Richardson opts out of $11 million, and Josh Richardson probably isn’t opting out of $11 million.
If the Knicks presented Jackson with a three year, $45 million deal with a small partial guarantee for the third year (say, $3 million, which could be stretched to a million bucks a year over three seasons if need be), that might be too much to turn down.
We know at the very least his agent will pick up the phone. That’s because Jackson is represented by none other than Aaron Mintz of CAA, the same man who reps both Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton. In case you forgot, Randle told a story on the Woj pod a few months ago about how he met Elf and Mintz for dinner one night during the trying 2019-20 season. Also present were Leon Rose and Worldwide Wes. A few months later, Rose and Wes would be running the Knicks, and a Randle rebirth would follow shortly thereafter. If anyone can speak to Jackson about how the environment in MSG would be perfect for his own continued career resurgence, it is Randle.
It also wouldn’t be the first time a high profile Mintz client helped bring aboard a fellow CAA’er. In that tearful speech after Game 6, Jackson talked about a phone call from Paul George being instrumental in getting him to LA. George’s agent? Aaron Mintz, of course.
(See also: Mintz client Luke Kennard, who the Clippers traded for during the 2020 draft and proceeded to sign a four year, $64 million extension in LA, and of course, Elfrid Payton. The playoffs revealed that Thibs certainly wasn’t starting Elf for all that time because he thought he was the best option. You can do the math.)
If Jackson leaves LA, the Clips will still be well over the cap and could use a serviceable point guard on the cheap. If Reggie lands in New York, perhaps Los Angeles could provide a safe landing spot for Payton. Everybody wins.
Perfect is often said to be the enemy of the good.
There is no perfect point guard available for the Knicks this summer. Even in the draft, should they select a long term option, that player will need some time to develop. Derrick Rose is good for half the game, but we saw in the playoffs what overextending him can do.
Signing Jackson as a 25-minute-a-night starter might be the perfect bridge option for the franchise right now. It’s not sexy, but it is sufficient, at least for the needs of a team that wants to continue building around Randle and Barrett. It would also allow them to retain max cap space for 2022 (unless of course they wanted to throw the bag at Norm Powell or Gary Trent Jr. I’d pass on both in this scenario).
Whatever they decide, I think Jackson has earned a long look. He’s good, and clearly doesn’t shy away from a big stage in a large market.
He doesn’t have to be the best of the best, just the best of several imperfect options.
That’s it for today! If you enjoy this newsletter and like the Mets, don’t forget to subscribe to JB’s Metropolitan. See everyone soon! #BlackLivesMatter