Pierre Jackson puts up 42/8/8 for the Texas Legends

New Mavs point guard Pierre Jackson scores 42 points for the Texas Legends, the Mavs' D-League affiliate.

In the NBA version of a minor-league call-up, the Mavs have signed point guard Pierre Jackson from the Texas Legends, the club’s NBA D-League affiliate.

Jackson, 25, had been leading the NBA minors in scoring at 29.1 points per game on a blistering 54.0 percent shooting, including 42.9 percent from beyond the arc. He also averaged 6.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.9 steals in 35.7 minutes per game. If his name sounds familiar to locals, it’s because he starred at Baylor for two seasons from 2011-13, including winning the NIT Championship in 2013.

This is Jackson’s first crack at the NBA; he’s never played a minute in a regular season game. But this is a guy who’s absolutely lit up the D-League throughout his career. During the 2013-14 season — his first as a pro — he averaged 29.1 points per game for the Idaho Stampede. During one stretch that season, he scored 58, 39, and 28 in consecutive games. That earned him a contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, but unfortunately, he ruptured his Achilles at the 2014 Summer League and would be waived. He briefly returned to the D-League the following season before jumping overseas and averaging 20.9 points in seven games for KK Cedevita (Croatia) of the Adriatic League.

“He’s shown that he’s an NBA-caliber player, and an NBA-caliber point guard,” Legends head coach Bob MacKinnon told Mavs.com. “He directs our offense, he gets people the ball in the right positions, and he’s also shown a great attention to detail on defense that has shown people he’s ready to compete at the NBA level.”

Listed at just 5-foot-11, Jackson has faced similar questions and doubts about his size throughout his career as current Mavs point guard J.J. Barea, who also had to prove himself in the D-League before finally earning and solidifying a place in the NBA. The Puerto Rican averaged 27.3 points in eight appearances for the Fort Worth Flyers on 52.3 percent shooting in 2006-07.

Jackson’s game is a combination of swift dribbles moves and incredible efficiency relative to his competition. For starters, he’s scoring 1.306 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ball-handler for the Legends, per Synergy Sports, which ranks first among the 33 players with at least 50 possessions, and third overall. He’s shot 57.6 percent from the field in those chances on 66 attempts. This dude can flat-out score.

What makes him so effective? He’s got extreme quickness and has tremendous speed, two things a player must have at that size, but he can also change speeds to help create cracks in the defense. In the play below, Jackson pushes in transition, hesitates, shows a hard crossover dribble, and then attacks the middle of the paint.

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That slight hesitation sets up the whole play. Jackson didn’t have the angle or the room to just blaze past his man, but if he would’ve waited another second or two, the defense would have been more set. But he turned on the jets at precisely the right time and scored with 17 seconds still on the shot clock. It’s not always about your top speed — a good player knows how and when to use it.

Sometimes, though, that brilliant speed is completely necessary.

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“Believe me, he’s got plenty of bounce to his game,” MacKinnon told Mavs.com. “It’s even quicker in person.”

In the play above, Jackson began his rim attack almost 30 feet from the basket, standing completely idle. But he still managed to get around his defender in only two dribbles and put enough touch on that floater to get it over the big man, off the backboard, and in. That’s a really tough play, but he made it look so easy. For the season, he’s shooting an unreal 76.4 percent in the restricted area.

He can find his spots in the mid-range and from deep, too. Jackson shot 15 of 30 from the mid-range for the Legends this season, per D-League Stats, and 42.3 percent on above-the-break 3s. At the NBA level, you’re not always going to have the speed or quickness advantage, or you might be going up against a fearsome rim protector, so you have to complement your driving ability with something else. Jackson has shown he’s got the patience and awareness to find pockets of space and pull up when it’s available.

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In the play above, he showed another hard crossover dribble to create some breathing room, but after turning the corner from the screen he saw there was probably no way he’d get to the rim unimpeded, so he pulled up for a quick 18-footer. That’s a smooth move by the 25-year-old.

For additional reading and a closer breakdown of his game at the D-League level, check out this piece by Chris Reichert, The Step Back’s D-League authority. Reichert compares Jackson’s playing style to similar-sized Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas, for what it’s worth, was drafted 60th overall — dead last — in the 2011 NBA Draft, at least in part because of his size. He averaged 11.5 points during his rookie season at age 22. Jackson, meanwhile, was drafted 42nd overall in 2013 by the 76ers.

Don’t let Jackson’s scoring numbers mislead you, though. Just because he’s a point guard who takes a lot of shots doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have the passing or floor game needed to thrive at the next level. MacKinnon told Mavs.com there’d be times during Legends games when Jackson would tell him they needed to run something to get Manny Harris or Quincy Acy a look. That, along with his huge increase in shooting percentage (nearly 10 points over his rookie season), has been a key part of his development since his rookie season in 2013-14.

“He’s a more complete player,” MacKinnon told Mavs.com. “I think if you look at him now, he’s a more efficient scorer from the point guard position. It doesn’t take him as many shots to get his points now. He knows how to run an offense and make sure that people get the ball where they need to get it to score. He’s shown that he’s really evolved into a true NBA point guard.”

On top of his capacity to run an offense is a growing trend league-wide. The top-three players in assists per game this season — James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall — each take more than 30 percent of his respective team’s field goal attempts, as well. This is the age of the potent scoring point guard.

Typically, it takes new players at least a few days to become familiar with the playbook. But one of the benefits of the Mavs’ D-League affiliate is the Legends run virtually the same exact offense as the NBA squad. That should expedite Jackson’s learning process and could mean he potentially sees some action sooner than later.

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