Reggie Jackson Had The Bounce-Back Season He Needed

This is the first of my season reviews. There will be one for each player who finished the season in a Pistons uniform. These will (hopefully) be coming fast and furious.

The Basics:

Jackson played, and started, in every single game that the Pistons took part in this season, 82 regular season and all 4 playoff games, he was the only player on the roster to do so. He averaged 15.4 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.6 rebounds per game. Jackson shot 42.1% from the field and 36.9% from deep for a true shooting percentage of 54.7%.

The Good

Reggie Jackson managed to stay healthy for an entire season for the first time in three years! After seeing the Pistons get de-railed by Jackson injuries in two straight seasons he was the only Pistons player to suit up for every game this season. He was a distant 3rd in total minutes played this season behind Griffin and Drummond but well ahead of anyone else.

Jackson’s stat-line was solid as a clear third banana in the pecking order. You’d like his volume to maybe be better, in both points and assists, but he shot a solid ball from deep and had decent efficiency from the field even though he was in a tricky offensive role that took him time to adjust with. Despite being a clear third option who didn’t have all that high a usage rate, or handle the ball a ton he still was asked to create a ton of his own shots. Just 42% of his buckets were assisted this season, only 2% higher than Blake Griffin. He also spent more time off the ball and less time playing endless pick and roll than he has since probably his second year in the league, but he didn’t complain (at least in any ways that got out to the public) and he put had a mostly effective season. Once February rolled around and he was fully into game-shape after spending almost the entire Summer rehabbing (and the Pistons had said before the season that he probably wouldn’t be all the way right till about February) he really started to get going, ironically starting with the infamous post-game interview after a win over the Pelicans.

Starting with that game against the Pelicans, Jackson scored 17 points and dished 4.3 assists per game, his usage rate jumped up but so did his scoring efficiency and his on/off numbers. Saying that he went on a tear after that moment might be a bit too far but he certainly looked better. Early in the season Jackson’s numbers were solid but the eye test left a lot to be desired, later in the season the numbers improved a bit but the eye test said more than anything.

And it was the eye test where this season really stood out for Jackson in the end. Especially as the season went on, he started to show real signs of life that he hasn’t since his knee first started hurting a couple of Summers ago. Jackson made 14 dunks this season (according to basketball-reference) which is the most he’s had in a season since the season he was traded to Detroit. Despite blowing away his previous career highs in three-pointers attempted he still drew fouls at his best rate since his first full season in Detroit, as well as getting to the rim at as high a rate as he has in a Pistons jersey. He had several moments where he straight yammed it on someone, his huge offensive put back dunk in the playoffs was awesome, he also dusted guys on several occasions with great crossovers, all things that have been rare to see the past two seasons.

The greatest sign of Jackson’s improved health was truthfully seen on the defensive end of the floor. Jackson has never been and never will be a high level defender, but on a team with some of the leakiest perimeter defense in the entire NBA, Jackson stood out as being largely competent. The effort was consistently there, he seemed to have a solid grasp of Casey’s defensive scheme that overplayed the 3-point line, and he largely executed it. He struggled to contain the better ball-handlers of the league, which is a real issue for him, but a lot of guys struggle with that.

Lastly, it was largely lost in the Pistons getting obliterated by the Bucks, but Jackson turned in a really solid playoff series. In the 4 games against the Bucks Jackson scored 17.8 points and dished 7 assists per game while shooting 40% from deep. He struggled in all sorts of ways on defense (as did every other player on the roster) but he performed well against a really good defensive team.

After back-to-back seasons from hell for Jackson, where he was hurt a ton and was largely very bad when he did play, he put forth a season where he never go hurt and was totally and completely competent as a starting point-guard. Seeing him start to get the confidence to finish over big men and occasionally get the cocky Reggie that is bouncing while dribbling up the court was a joy.

The Bad:

He was simply competent, but often not much more. What’s worse is that he clearly does not fit well with what Dwane Casey wants out of his point guard as Casey looked for every excuse to play other guys as much as he could. Whether it was having Jose Calderon play over him early in the season or Ish Smith closing playoff games.

Simply put, given the Pistons situation, it is not great that their $17 million point guard was just “competent”. Given the style of offense that Dwane Casey prefers and having Blake Griffin around to dominate the ball (as he should) it isn’t clear that Jackson brings much to the table that is much better than “pretty good”. There were just a lot of times this season where you wanted more out of Jackson even if he wasn’t under-performing.

The biggest issue going forward would be the fit with him and Dwane Casey. Casey has done everything other than rent a giant billboard outside of Tom Gores LA house saying “Give me a new point-guard please” and Casey’s dislike of pick and rolls does not gel well with Jackson when Jackson’s biggest strength is his ability to run pick and rolls. Casey often used Jackson as a spot-up shooter who occasionally gets asked to get buckets out of isolation and that just isn’t the best version of his game. There is some hope on this front, later in the season the Pistons found a happier medium with getting Jackson the ball more in ways that he liked, although that resulted in Blake getting such fewer touches that it might not be the answer. At the very least there is some reason to be optimistic about the Casey/Jackson partnership based on the last 30 some games of the season where Jackson looked much more at home.

The Verdict:

Hard to be too disappointed with Jackson’s season. He stayed healthy, had decent numbers, started to really look like himself, played a role way out of his comfort zone without complaint, and gave solid effort on defense.

The reason that this is so meaningful is to remember where he was the past two seasons where injuries sapped him of much of his effectiveness and cost him nearly half of each of the last two seasons. When considering that, Jackson’s bounce-back season may end up saving the Pistons chances to compete with Griffin and Drummond.

After putting forth a solid season, the Pistons can focus on improving their terrible win rotation without making a desperate move for a better point guard, at the same time if a opportunity presents itself where the Pistons could get a upgrade at the spot they should find a team willing to take Jackson without too much trouble. Jackson would not be the first option of many teams but some team will get to the end of free agency without a point-guard and Jackson will look appealing as a one-year stop-gap.

The highly intriguing thing about Jackson is what he could potentially look like this coming season after having his first proper off-season in years. If Jackson could come back and have the whole season looking like he finished this season, that is a guy the Pistons can really work with.

The biggest issue remains that Casey doesn’t seem to think much of Jackson. That isn’t the worst thing in the world, if they could upgrade it’d be nice and maybe Casey will push them that way, I just hope that he doesn’t push for a dumb trade just to get a new point-guard who would only be a marginal upgrade just because they fit whatever his ideal is better.