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JACKSON SUITED TO SUCCEED REGGIE
Season Preview: The Shooting Guards
By Conrad Brunner | Oct. 25, 2005
If you take the names out of the discussion and simply look at the skill sets, it would be easy to get the impression the Pacers might actually be upgrading the shooting guard position this season. Of course, it's impossible to ignore the reality that comes with those names, at least the one missing: Reggie Miller. It's up to Stephen Jackson to make sure his presence is felt more than Miller's absence.
The retirement of the NBA 3-point king and the franchise's all-time leading scorer did not come as a surprise and thus the Pacers were well-prepared for the eventuality. They spent the No. 14 pick in the 2002 NBA Draft on Fred Jones, then traded talented young forward Al Harrington to Atlanta prior to the 2004-05 season for Jackson.
Jackson and Jones are both more athletic and more versatile than Miller, offensively, not to mention far more capable, defensively. Neither, however, will pose the late-game threat nor bring the confidence that any deficit could be surmounted as did the departed legend.
What remains to be seen his how much Coach Rick Carlisle and his staff will ask of the position. Miller played a tertiary offensive role in his final years, stepping forward out of necessity last season. Jackson is capable of carrying a much bigger chunk of the offense. He averaged more than 18 points in each of the last two seasons and, after Jermaine O'Neal's shoulder injury last season, he averaged 21.7 points in the next 22 games.
Because he is capable of scoring more consistently, and from both inside and out, Jackson is likely to join O'Neal and Ron Artest in a triumvirate of primary scorers, rather than being asked to yield to them. Jackson can be very effective in the post and off the dribble and he also is a prolific 3-point shooter, making more than 100 in each of the last two seasons. For perspective, consider: other than Miller and Jackson, just three players in Pacers history have cracked the century mark even once (Billy Keller in 1975-76, Chuck Person in 1991-92 and Chris Mullin in 1997-98).
Jackson also has plenty of experience with pressure situations, playing a vital role in San Antonio's title run in 2003, not to mention the self-assurance to handle the stress that will come with carrying the torch. All things considered, he is close to an ideal successor.
Jones was pivotal in the Pacers' ability to survive the suspensions (including Jackson's 30-gamer) last season, averaging 16.3 points and shooting .466 in 14 starts. His 31-point night against Orlando in the first game after the suspensions may have been the single most inspiring performance of the season and sent the message the Pacers would not yield to their circumstances. He has improved steadily in each of his three seasons (including career-best averages of 10.6 points and .380 from the arc last season) but faces the prospect of a limited role.
With Sarunas Jasikevicius and Anthony Johnson both capable of playing shooting guard, Jones could be squeezed for minutes. If he continues to develop his left hand while regaining the defensive intensity that marked his entry into the league, Jones could make himself even more valuable. As it is, he'll likely be one of those players paying the price for the team's depth and versatility and their willingness to make that sacrifice will be vital to the season.