Stan Van Gundy sounds like he might finally be willing to make a switch at point guard, indicating after practice Friday that Ish Smith might start in place of the struggling Reggie Jackson against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.
Jackson has struggled all season after missing the first 21 games recovering from knee tendonitis. The explosiveness he relies on to get to the hoop, particularly in the pick and roll, has been absent all season.
Jackson has a net rating of -9.2 per 100 possessions, which is almost comically bad. It is by far the worst of any member of the regular rotation. Conversely, Smith sports a net rating of +3.3, second only to the defensive-minded Aron Baynes.
Smith has been orchestrating an effective up-tempo offense, and his facility for sharing the ball energizes his teammates on both ends of the floor.
Speaking of both ends, this switch might do wonders for Detroit’s porous defense. It’s no secret that the Pistons struggle, particularly at the 1 and 5 positions, and Jackson’s already bad defense has been horrific with his decreased athleticism.
Jackson has never been known for his defense, but last year he was able to fight hard enough to be respectable. Detroit had a defensive rating of 104.1 with Jackson on the floor last season. This year, that number has slipped all the way to 111.6.
To put that in context, the worst overall defense in the NBA, the Denver Nuggets, give up 110.7 points per 100 possessions. For the remaining And Drummond defenders out there, shoring up the defense at the point of attack, even slightly, might help Dre’s defense down low as well.
When the defensive game plan collapses as soon as Jackson can’t fight through a screen it’s no surprise that players, Drummond especially, get caught out of position and giving up easy looks.
Jackson is averaging 14.7 points, 5.5 assists and 2.3 turnovers per game so far this season. Smith is averaging 8.3 points, 5 assists and 1.4 turnovers.
Whether this would be a one-game experiment or a permanent shift to the starting lineup remains to be seen. Jackson, quite frankly, just hasn’t been fully healthy all season.
One of the hardest things a coach must deal with is handling a key player coming off a significant injury who is healthy enough to play but not healthy enough to contribute. He’s driving to the basket much less per game, shooting worse on those drives and not getting to the free-throw line. After shooting 57.5 percent within three feet last season, his field goal percentage near the basket has plummeted to 50.4 percent.
He’s. Simply. Not. Healthy.
A move to the bench isn’t likely to spark his game, either. Only further recovery from his knee issues will do that. It also remains an open question whether further rotation dominoes would eventually fall with Ish and Reggie swapping places.
Would Tobias Harris re-enter the starting lineup in order to maximize the chemistry he’s built up with Smith? Would the struggling Jon Leuer recapture some of that efficiency when he was lighting up NBA reserves early in the season? Would Jackson eventually get shut down if he continues to struggle off the bench?
Whatever happens, it should be a fascinating rest of the season.