In less than two months in the NBA Development League, Idaho Stampede guard Pierre Jackson has established himself as the league's No. 1 prospect, its leading scorer and the MVP of its annual showcase, held last week in Reno.
Under normal circumstances, the 5-foot-11, 176-pound Jackson could be packing his bags for an NBA city and dreaming of a much grander paycheck.
But Jackson, a second-round pick in June's NBA Draft, finds himself in D-League limbo - a state owing as much to his unusual contract status as his size and perceived defensive liabilities.
Jackson was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, who traded his rights to the New Orleans Pelicans. He never signed with the Pelicans, however, and opted to play in France. After two months in France, Jackson returned to the U.S. to be nearer to his ailing grandmother and play in the D-League. He was drafted by the Stampede, an affiliate of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Because he never signed - and, importantly, was never waived - by an NBA team, his draft rights remain with the Pelicans. As such, New Orleans is the only NBA team that can call him up. Tulsa's Grant Jerrett is the only other D-League player in this situation.
The other nine members of the Stampede are free to sign with any NBA team that wants them. Jackson is limited to the guard-heavy Pelicans.
His agent has been given permission to seek a trade - and there could be a spot for him because of injuries at the point guard position throughout the NBA. Chris Paul (Clippers), Eric Bledsoe (Suns), Derrick Rose (Bulls), and Russell Westbrook (Thunder) are out for extended periods. The Pelicans may have a need, too, after Jrue Holiday suffered a stress fracture.
While that plays out, Jackson just plays.
And plays well.
Jackson, who missed the Stampede's 123-113 victory against Los Angeles with tightness in his right elbow, is averaging a league-best 29.9 points per game. He has four 40-point games, including a 49-point outburst.
Jackson has four 40-point games. He is ninth in the league in assists at 5.1 per game and fifth in the league in steals at 2.2 per game.
"I'm trying to make the best of what I'm doing down here. I hate losing. Regardless of what level or where I'm at, I want to win," Jackson said.
At every level, Jackson has won - and racked up individual accolades. He led the College of Southern Idaho to a national title, earned tournament MVP honors and was named junior college player of the year.
At Baylor, Jackson helped the Bears to the Elite Eight and earned AP All-America honorable mention status as a junior. As a senior in 2013, Baylor won the NIT title and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
He has been doubted at every level. That has pushed Jackson, spurring him further.
"The chip is only getting bigger. I'm still not where I want to be yet. I'm still not being able to show the world what I'm capable or and what I've got in my bag," Jackson said. "Until I get there, even when I get there, I'm sure I'm going to be doubted. It's going to keep growing until I get to where I want to be and what I want to accomplish."
NBA teams are concerned about his size and his ability to guard bigger players in the post, where good opponents are no doubt going to make him defend. They also want to see him exert more energy on defense, hounding opposing guards with his quickness, and be more consistent with that effort.
But Jackson's role on an NBA team won't be as a heavy-minutes starter or as a volume shooter, his primary roles with the Stampede. He'll be asked to come off the bench and provide some scoring punch.
"Come in with some zip and change the pace of a game," Stampede coach Michael Peck said. " There are pockets of minutes with him being on the floor. He fits. He has a place."
For now, his place is Boise.
And it's a good one.
Jackson's booster parents from his CSI days have been to games - bringing cookies, just like the old days - and he has visited Twin Falls several times. His grandmother is feeling better, and Jackson has been able to visit her, his mom and his girlfriend in Vegas.
Jackson has resisted the offers from overseas to play and get paid much more than his reported D-League salary ($28,000). The NBA minimum salary is $490,180.
"The first goal is for me to get to the NBA," Jackson said.
In his first 20 games as a professional, Jackson has done just about everything he can to make that a reality. Now he waits - for a break, for a trade, for a chance to prove himself once again.
HOW DOES IT HELP PORTLAND?
The Portland Trail Blazers own the basketball operations of the Idaho Stampede. With Pierre Jackson, the Blazers are developing a player under contract to another NBA team - the New Orleans Pelicans.
Stampede coach Michael Peck thinks it's great for the Blazers.
"You're going to allow us to look and evaluate your asset all year if you don't call him up," Peck said. "We get a great look at him as a person, character-wise. We know what he did with us. We had a chance for eight months, six months to evaluate him. I think it's really good."
Plus, Jackson's presence is helping the Stampede win.
"Let's face it: Pierre Jackson needs to be on the floor for us. He's a guy that can get baskets," Peck said. "We've got to shore up defensively and defense is important, but the game as the end of the day comes down to put the brown thing in the round thing."
Brian Murphy: 377-6444; Twitter: @MurphsTurph