This wasn’t the place Joe Jackson expected to be in 2015, celebrating an NBA D-League Showcase Cup as a member of the Bakersfield Jam.
Yet slowly but surely, the former Memphis high school superstar can feel himself becoming the player everyone expected him to be and reaching the heights everyone expected him to reach.
“My vision is still right there,” he said after scoring 24 points in a championship game that he commanded down the stretch.
At 22, Jackson still has time on his side and experience under his belt. He left the Phoenix Suns after the preseason with a notebook on their system, some game tape and little clue what to expect from his season with their NBA D-League affiliate; he had never watched a D-League game.
Now an emerging piece on a tight-knit team, Jackson sees the benefit of the path he’s taking.
“It’s just development, man. It’s really the development league,” he said. “The Bakersfield Jam and the Phoenix Suns, that’s a great affiliation because they do everything in their power to help you get better. … They tell you everything you can do; it’s up to you to actually buy into what they’re saying, get better and work.”
After an injury setback that limited him for the first six weeks, the (generously listed) 6-1 guard has begun to look like his old self, averaging 18.5 points (on 61% shooting), 5.2 assists, 1.3 turnovers and 2.2 steals in 27.7 minutes over his last six games.
On Sunday his work on both ends — patiently running the offense, making plays off the dribble and moving his feet to be a pest on defense — brought Bakersfield back in the game (he finished as a plus-17).
The best part, Jackson said, is having teammates he genuinely enjoys sharing the court with. A core of veterans, led by another Suns training camp cut and former Memphis Tiger Earl Barron, has showed the young Jam players the ropes.
“He brings so much wisdom, so much experience,” Jackson said of Barron, who chose to stick around in a star center/mentor role. “You just learn from him, on and off the court.”
The guidance has kept Jackson heading in the right direction, focusing on the day-to-day work he’s putting in rather than “stressing” over the ultimate goal.
“The only thing you can bank on is an opportunity,” he said. “[So] just continue to work and get better and be ready if it comes.”