by Conrad Brunner
Oct. 17, 2005
Stephen Jackson knew this was coming. He didn't know when or how, but he knew.
At some point, he was going to succeed Reggie Miller as the starting shooting guard for the Pacers. He would step into some of the biggest shoes ever vacated, following a player legendary not only for his production, but his heroics. Not to mention quite possibly the most popular player in franchise history.
When the Pacers gave up Al Harrington to Atlanta in order to acquire Jackson prior to last season, they did so with the future in mind. With Miller's retirement last May, the moment has arrived for Jackson.
"That was the plan," said Coach Rick Carlisle. "We loved Al Harrington but we understand that we needed to have a long-term plan to help when Reggie did decide to retire. This is where we pictured things going. He's not Reggie Miller from the 3-point line but he's not far from it in terms of his ability to get the ball in the basket from deep."
Jackson also possesses the right kind of personality to deal with the pressure unique to his situation. Brash, confident to the point of cocky, outgoing and popular with his teammates, he will draw plenty of support within the walls of the locker room as well as on the floor.
"Eventually, Reggie was going to walk off into the sunset and I knew I'm a guy that can bring the team together, that gets along with everybody and can make this team one big family," Jackson said. "That's the way we have to be to win games. We have to be on the same page. I enjoy doing this. I get along with everybody. Everybody knows I'm a fun guy to be around and I want to win games. Anything I have to do to support my teammates, I will. That's what they love about me."
Though it might be considered heresy to suggest, Jackson brings some abilities to the floor absent for at least the final few seasons of Miller's 18-year tenure. He is stronger, more effective in the post, more able to create his own shot and a much more aggressive defender. Playing with tape on a sore right thumb, Jackson's effectiveness in the preseason has been mitigated but he has averaged 10.7 points in three games.
"Our team is going to have a different dimension to it this year because Steve is going to be a very strong post matchup for us against other teams," Carlisle said. "We'll try to get him the ball in the post. There'll be times we'll have to play off him in the post and he'll have to kick out off double-teams and make the right passes. He showed last year early in the year he was very effective at doing that. When things changed and he had to go play at three it was a different kind of adjustment for him."
Jackson was supposed to spend last season as Miller's backup but the events of Nov. 19 changed his role dramatically. Upon returning from his suspension, Jackson moved into the starting lineup and wound up starting 42 games at small forward in the absence of Ron Artest. He fared well, averaging a career-high 18.7 points, but his size and skills are a much better fit at shooting guard.
"I think I can cause a lot of matchup problems because I'm a tall two-guard," Jackson said. "Reggie was a lot lighter than me and he couldn't really post up. I can take a lot of wind out of these young guys and put 'em in the paint, put some elbows on 'em and play rough with 'em."
As Carlisle pointed out, neither is Jackson a slouch from the perimeter. His 3-point percentage has improved in each of the last three seasons to a career-best .360 in 2004-05, when he led the team in 3-pointers made (103) and attempted (286).
Replacing Miller's clutch shooting, the presence he brought to the floor in late-game situations, will be Jackson's biggest challenge. Though he established a reputation for big shots during San Antonio's title run in 2003, Jackson will not be asked to carry that burden alone. Rather than focusing on one weapon, the Pacers hope to succeed by employing a variety of threats, Jackson included, in those situations.
"Right now, for us, this group of players and coaches included, it's about an opportunity to pass the torch to a new era of Pacers basketball without Reggie," Carlisle said. "This group now has the opportunity to show what they're made of and that's what our situation is about right now."
NOTES: The Pacers waived free agent Desmon Farmer on Sunday, bringing the training-camp roster to 17. A 6-5 shooting guard from USC, Farmer appeared in two preseason games, totaling five points in 10 minutes. This was his second attempt to make the team. He also was cut in training camp last season.