This is how it ended for Reggie Jackson last year:
Down two, seven seconds remaining and with the entire floor to work with, Jackson’s top of the key three falls harmlessly short.
Game. Series. Season.
In Cleveland, he found a team that wouldn’t budge or fold; a team on a mission. For Jackson - in his first full campaign in a leading role - the entire postseason could be viewed as baptism under fire; one test after another with each learned lesson playing an essential part of personal and team growth.
Long gone are the days deferring to and playing in the shadow of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City. The former backup knew his worth and was given the opportunity to run his own team. Now, though, when things go wrong, the camera and collective attention of the Piston organization, fans and media is squarely and anxiously pointed at Jackson. Moving forward, how he responds in those lesser moments will let the league know if the Pistons should be taken seriously (or not).
2015-’16 year in review
Clearly, Jackson had a full plate but with the Pistons reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2009, nothing short of a net positive could objectively be argued.
At times during the season, his ability to deliver in crucial and clutch situations became ever so evident and somewhat of a calling card.
On November 8th, 2015 at Portland, Jackson put on one of the best late game performances in franchise history scoring 26 (of his career high 40) fourth quarter points in the comeback win. The scoring onslaught raised eye brows throughout the NBA and even earned the admiration of the home team:
In mid-December, the Detroit Pistons outlasted the Chicago Bulls in an instant 4 overtime classic. Reggie ended the game with 31 points and 13 assists and capped the thriller with 13 points in the 4th overtime.
Despite struggling all night from the field, Jackson essentially put the nail in Dallas’ coffin on a broken play in early March to secure - yet another - important road victory.
The point being, in Jackson, the Pistons have a guy that can take the big shot and make the big shot. Just as important, a guy who wants to take and make the big shot. We tend to like those guys.
At times throughout the season, the offense became very stagnant often relying on ugly isolation or forced late shot clock field goal attempts. When hero ball goes well, you get the highlights depicted above. When it doesn’t, you get an earful from Stan Van Gundy.
Fact: Reggie Jackson led the league last year (of qualified players) in average dribbles per touch and average seconds of possession per touch. Basically, this means that Jackson is dribbling the air out of the ball at every opportunity.
Where stats like this get murky is that little thing called context.
The Pistons are a heavy pick and roll, one in/four out offense which means Jackson is going to initiate and control most of the offensive flow (leading to those gaudy possession stats). When the initial action falls by the wayside, however, the counter punch is lacking, players are left standing around and stagnation sets in.
This becomes a problem for the Pistons, most notably for Reggie Jackson as Van Gundy is notoriously hard on his point guards.
The denied high five can surely be laughed off but it’s example of just how hard it is to impress Van Gundy, especially when you’re not quite at his tempo (BTW, Jackson had 30 points and nine assists in a win that game).
While periods of stale offense could be chalked up to lack of chemistry between new players and/or players in new roles, there is no gray area concerning the defensive end and effort.
In the golden era of point guards, it hurts to have an average or below average defender of the position and unfortunately, that’s where Jackson lies. Many times, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope cross matched with the higher end PG’s but the league is too talented and teams are too smart to continually hide minus defenders.
The question around “effort” isn’t easily answered, though. Jackson suffers from asthma and has been subbed irregularly due to exhaustion. Combined with the heavy work load on offense, are the expectations too much?
Heading into the new season, Piston fans held their breath as news broke that Jackson was experiencing pain in his knee due to tendinitis, an all-too-common ailment for hoopsters. Six to eight weeks (diagnosed during training camp) was the initial “worst case scenario” timetable giving Detroit’s on court conductor a handful of options to look into.
All indications are for Jackson to miss the opening 15-20 games depending on his response to rehab. It’s far from doomsday but obviously not an ideal situation either. In his absence, Detroit will turn to Ish Smith to run the show and if they can remain competitive, it will certainly be a feather in SVG’s cap.
Injuries happen, there is nothing players, coaches or fans can do about it. Clearly, there are circumstances (surgery) that are out of a players’ hands but if the remedy includes daily/weekly/monthly treatment, he must do everything in his control to put himself (and team) in a position to succeed.
Once he’s back to doing basketball things again, the hope for Reggie Jackson in the upcoming year is to simply take the next evolutionary step in his career. He’ll be 27 by years’ end and by most standards, that’s the age in which players begin their prime.
What does the vague “take the next step” entail?
The next step is directly related to team success as one does not go without the other.
Very few players in the NBA have the opportunity to have such an impact on the bottom line of their teams’ success as Jackson does. Despite the “franchise player” label being taken up (and rightfully so) by Andre Drummond, the Detroit Pistons’ - with this core - championship fate will depend on Reggie Jackson.
If he thrives, so do the Pistons.
If he gets derailed by injury or in-different play, so does any realistic chance at a parade down Woodward, at least any time soon.
At 18 points and six assists a game last season, demanding an arbitrary increase does very little in the big picture. Sure, better shot selection and efficiency would be nice but assuming he’s the player we think he is, that usually comes with continued maturity.
What isn’t optional but much harder to quantify is the continued leadership role Jackson must provide.
Pistons' Reggie Jackson gets technical foul after losing composure over no-call pic.twitter.com/uZEytEb89j— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) April 17, 2016
There is a time and place to elicit change in the way a game is being officiated but drawing a technical foul in a tight Game 1 against Cleveland isn’t one of those times. It’s not a good look for the leader to lose his cool. Lesson learned? Hopefully.
Jackson drew the ire from his former OKC teammates after an in game celebration of a soon-to-be Detroit win in late March.
In real time, most Detroiters didn’t believe the celebration to be a big deal.
Hopefully though, it’s out of his system. It doesn’t mean there should be a lack of intensity when facing his former ball club, after all, there is some serious bad blood but there are bigger fish to fry and seriously, who cares about Oklahoma City?
Statistics shouldn’t measure this point guard’s value. If the team is struggling against the bottom feeders of the league, that’s on it’s leaders, that’s on Reggie Jackson. If the Pistons come out flat to begin a game or to start the third quarter, again, that’s on Jackson. He wanted it that way, he got it.
Improved on court and off court leadership intangibles will keep the Piston train trending upwards and in turn, Jackson will receive the national attention he would then deserve.
Stan Van Gundy is a firm believer in Reggie Jackson (and let the SB Nation Book of Records show: so am I) and is going to push him as hard as possible with the hope of turning him into a perennial All Star.
After perennial All Star, who knows?
18 points, seven assists, 37% 3pt, playing meaningful basketball in the month of May