Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Kyrie Irving. Those are the only point guards in the NBA making more money next year than Reggie Jackson.
Creating a list of point guards that have outplayed Jackson in the past four years, on the other hand, would certainly be much longer.
But Stan Van Gundy doesn't care about the past, he only cares about the future, and he has a vision for how Jackson fits into that future. He sees a dynamic, athletic point guard who is murder in the pick and roll. He sees someone who has the length and strength to become a good defender. He sees a capable Robin to Andre Drummond's Batman as the Pistons fight for relevance in today's NBA.
That vision (and the coming explosion of the salary cap) is why Van Gundy didn't flinch about giving an unproven player $80 million guaranteed over the next five years in the face of no competition. He doesn't care what Jackson has done, he's only interested in what he can get him to do.
He sees a star in Jackson, and would have rather convinced him to sign for all of the next five years as opposed to taking a shorter deal for a little less per season. Small sample size be damned, Van Gundy has a feeling, and Van Gundy is usually correct about these things. Last season, he saw something in Jackson, took a 27 game flyer on the pending free agent, and is so confident he's bet on the right horse that he's giving $15 million-plus to a player who's only ever been average.
Van Gundy can't afford to be wrong. His whole tenure in charge of the Pistons is reliant on this being the right move. Detroit doesn't have the free agent lure or time to recover from an $80 million mistake at point guard. By then, Drummond will have left for a better situation and it will be pushing on 10 years outside of the playoffs in Motown. He knows there's no margin for error, and he pulled the trigger anyway.
Luckily, it's not hard to understand what Van Gundy sees in Jackson if you just know where to look.
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It starts in Oklahoma City. That's where he was a largely nondescript player backing up Russell Westbrook. His numbers don't pop out at you -- 9 points, 3.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 21 minutes per night. He was a high-volume, mistake-prone inefficient point guard. Worse, he seemed to chafe at the idea of sitting on the bench, turning down a reported $12 million per year to remain the backup in OKC.
People thought he was crazy, a diva or worse. All Van Gundy saw was one of the best pick-and-roll point guards in the NBA. He averaged 0.91 points per possession out of the pick and roll per game last year with OKC, better than all but seven players with at least 250 PNR possessions. Overall, he was in the 86th percentile in the PNR, but in 50 games with the Thunder he only had 295 PNR possessions.
That's when Van Gundy scooped him up.
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Jackson got traded to Detroit, and suddenly Van Gundy took one of the best pick-and-roll point guards in the league and placed him into one of the most pick-and-roll friendly offenses in the NBA.
In just 27 games in Detroit, he had 346 PNR possessions, eclipsing his total with the Thunder in about half the games.Van Gundy loves the pick and roll. He built a finals team around it in Orlando with Dwight Howard, and he's looking to do the same around Drummond in Detroit. Pistons point guards ranked first, second, third, fifth and 15th in percentage of plays that were PNR last season. Jackson was first at 61.7 percent.
He also showed that he was an adept passer when given control of an offense, and was able to play to his strengths. His assists percentage hovered in the low- to mid-20s in OKC, but it ballooned to 51.2 percent in Detroit. He's a player that needs the ball in his hands to be effective, but was, understandably, given limited opportunities playing with Westbrook and Kevin Durant. In Detroit, he holds the keys.
Critics can scream small sample size all they want, but Van Gundy obviously thinks his numbers are translatable across a full NBA season.
Jackson averaged 17.6 points, 9.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game in Detroit. Those are all-star numbers. He was also top 5 in the NBA in points created by assists per game and top 6 in assist opportunities per game. Still, sustained success has always eluded him.
Another important factor -- in Detroit, he was playing on a roster made up of largely spare parts. Detroit gave up Kyle Singler and DJ Augustin in its trade to grab Jackson and then gifted Jonas Jerebko to Boston when JJ asked for a trade to a place with more playing time. Singler, Augustin and Jerebko were also some of the team's most reliable 3-point threats Detroit had at that point in the season. Once in Detroit, Jackson's most frequent lineup combination was Andre Drummond, Caron Butler, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Anthony Tolliver. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka they are not. He also played heavy minutes with both Drummond and Greg Monroe on the floor together.
Now, Monroe is gone. Replaced with stretch forward Ersan Ilyasova, who has hit 39.72 percent of his 3-pointers in the past four seasons. Butler is also gone, replaced by Marcus Morris, who shoots a similar percentage but at a higher volume and is also a superior defender. Detroit also has Jodie Meeks, looking to bounce back from an offseason that never got untracked after he injured his back early in the year. Also, Anthony Tolliver, another stretch 4, will get a full season of run in Detroit. All these players are legitimate 3-point threats who should have more wide open opportunities than ever behind the Jackson-Drummond pick and roll.
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So what exactly does Van Gundy see in this flawed player that's only ever topped out at intriguing? It seems that he sees a little of John Wall, Washington's explosive point guard that makes the Wizards hum. Both players are high-usage offensive hubs who use quickness and passing ability to convert at the rim and create open opportunities for teammates. Both are certainly flawed offensive players, but both teams were light years better with their point guards on the floor.
To be anywhere near the player and playmaker Wall is, Jackson has a lot of work to do. He still doesn't know when not to shoot. He pushes too hard to make the play, too in love with hero ball now that he is liberated from behind Westbrook's shadow. He needs to learn restraint and better shot selection, and learn it quick.
To go from good to great, he also needs to continue developing his 3-point shot. He shot a barely passable 33.7 percent while in Detroit, but he is sub-30 percent for his career. Also, and most importantly, he needs to become much more of a factor on the defensive end.
He takes those steps and he's a star. As it stands now, Van Gundy loves the foundation of his franchise point guard, and he thinks he can make Jackson even better. Is he right? Van Gundy staked $80 million, his reputation and the immediate future of the Pistons franchise on it, so he better be.