Reggie Jackson is coming home to try and help bring the Nuggets their first NBA championship.
“I’m a Colorado Springs kid,” Jackson said last week. “I’m a Colorado kid.”
Jackson was born in Italy but moved to Colorado Springs in sixth grade. With his father in the military, Jackson lived in England, North Dakota, Georgia and Florida before settling here. He attended Palmer High School in Colorado Springs and took the Colorado basketball scene by storm. Jackson was named 2008 Gatorade Colorado Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year and Colorado Mr. Basketball and went on to play at Boston College. Chauncey Billups was his favorite player growing up and Jackson still has friends and family in the area.
After 11 NBA seasons, Jackson is back. The 32-year-old was bought out by the Hornets after the Clippers dealt him at the trade deadline, and Denver moved quickly to sign him. While the Suns and other contenders were interested, Jackson zeroed in on the Nuggets fairly quickly. The prospects of playing a defined role at backup point guard for a championship contender and alongside Nikola Jokic were too good to pass up.
“He plays a brand of basketball that I’ve always believed in and that I was raised to believe in as a kid,” Jackson said of Jokic.
Jackson comes to Denver well aware of what this Nuggets team can do. He spent the last three seasons playing for the Clippers and knows what Denver is all about. He’s already called Jokic the “best player in the league the last two years.” He also has tons of respect for Jamal Murray, who he went toe-to-toe with in the Nuggets-Clippers 2020 Western Conference semifinals.
“It’s just going to be about helping this team,” said Jackson. “And of course trying to help Jamal. Just help him get back to who he is. The league knows who he is. He’s a scary player. I think he’s probably been snubbed of some All-Stars, but an All-Star caliber player.”
Jackson is a new face in Denver but is already familiar with some of the Nuggets’ roster. He played with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown for two seasons in Detroit. He’s shared a locker room before with Ish Smith, who played with Jackson in both Oklahoma City and Detroit.
DNVR spoke with Smith about what Jackson brings to the Nuggets and their relationship which goes back 13 years.
What’s your relationship with Reggie like?
We go all the way back to college. I was at Wake Forrest. He was at Boston College. We’ve built a good relationship and friendship. When you’re in the ACC and you battle so much, you build a relationship, a competitive relationship.
How can he help this team?
Reggie plays big in the biggest moments, and I’ve always said that about him. In the playoffs, he just takes it to another level. It’s a perfect fit. He’s a guy that can shoot the basketball and create offense, can finish, has a nice floater game, nice pull-up game, finishes well at the rim. Unbelievable in pick-and-roll. He’s going to be a perfect fit.
What kind of person is this locker room getting?
Jack’s a good dude. He’s going to fit right in. He’s been around the league long enough to where he knows everyone. The last two years, he’s competed against Denver so many times. As an organization, as a coaching staff, we’re very, very familiar with him.
Did you do any recruiting to try and get him here?
I stay out of grown folk’s business. I do think — I don’t know if this is true or not — but I do think the familiarity of him being from here, knowing some of the guys here, knowing me and Bruce, and then just competing against Denver the last three years when he was in LA. And having him always helps. (Ish gestures to Jokic who’s sitting in front of his locker a few feet away.) That’s the best recruiting tool when you’ve got the two-time, possibly three-time MVP.
The key question with Jackson is how much will he play? Jackson has been a solid point guard for years but struggled this season and eventually lost his starting spot with the Clippers before getting traded. However, his playoff numbers are impressive. As Smith said, he does raise his play when it matters most.
My read is that Jackson will play a lot. Murray missed the final six games before the All-Star break with right knee inflammation (not the ACL knee) and I think Denver is going to play it somewhat safe with him over its final 23 regular season games. Jackson is averaging 10.9 points (41.8 FG%, 35 3P%) and 3.5 assists this season but is logging 25.7 minutes per game.
He can soak up a lot of the Murray-less minutes. I could see a scenario where Murray isn’t staggering with the bench nearly as often as he did over the last couple of months and Jackson steps in at backup point guard. A 10-man rotation could be coming, which wouldn’t be the worst thing to try and keep everyone healthy. Prior to the All-Star break, Malone mentioned a potential bench lineup of Jackson, Bruce Brown, Christian Braun, Vlatko Cancar and Thomas Bryant.
Trust is going to be a word you hear often associated with Jackson. The Nuggets didn’t trust Bones Hyland, but Malone is going to trust Jackson, a veteran who has played in 69 career playoff games. Jackson also brings more length to the bench lineup at 6-foot-3 with a 7-foot wingspan. Coming to a loaded team like the Nuggets, Jackson just wants to do his part.
“I just want to help, help these guys with their aspirations. I’m pretty sure it’s championship aspirations,” Jackson said. “And then just try to give back to the game as much as possible. Try to help the younger guys, teach in any possible way and just share the joy with the fans and my teammates that the game brings to me.”