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Reggie Jackson’s revival depends on health and decision making

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Jackson’s health definitely impacted his play last season. But he needs more than just a return to health to thrive.

Indiana Pacers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

There are some things we know about Reggie Jackson. He had a lousy season last year. He started the season rehabbing a bad knee. He was mostly pretty good for the Pistons in 2015-16 and the partial season after he was traded to the Pistons at the end of the 2014-15 season.

It’s easy to just say last season was a down year due to injury. And it’s probably true.

We can glean some statistics that show many of the ways injury factored in for that down season. Jackson wasn’t as able to get to the rim and wasn’t as effective once he was there, that’s clear. He took 25 percent of his shots in the restricted area last season and converted at just 47.4 percent compared to 30 percent of his up close in 2015-16 while making 55.4 percent of them.

So he was just hurt and couldn’t get to the rim. Case closed, right?

Come on, there has to be more to it than that. When an athlete gets injured but still tries to compete, they’re typically compensating for that injury in some way. And if we don’t know what that is for Jackson, how do we know if he’s playing like Healthy Reggie or Hurt Reggie?

Digging into both the tape and the numbers, one key figure stands out. His ability to generate layups versus settling for floaters.

Jackson has always been rather effective with his floater. It’s a weapon that allows him to be a versatile scoring threat inside 16 feet, giving him the option of attacking the rim for a layup, stopping short with a floater, or pulling up for a midrange jumper. All of the threats are reasonably effective. But of course, a layup is going to be the most efficient.

Last year Jackson saw a relatively significant drop in the number of his shots coming from layups, going from 27 percent in 2015-16 to 23 percent last year. Being injured, it’s clear his explosiveness to attack the rim was definitely down.

He lacked the same blow-by speed and shiftiness to be able to both get past defenders for a solid look or to create various options for the finish. In the past he’s typically able to finish over meh defensive players without much difficulty, but last year that wasn’t the case. So not only was his volume of layups down, his effectiveness on them was as well, dropping from 55.8 percent to 46.8 percent.

On layups last season, opposing big men were able to keep with him and better challenge his shot compared to previous years. Jackson generally does a nice job of creating the space and separation he needs, but last year it just wasn’t there.

As a result, Jackson often turned to his floater.

Again, his floater is generally pretty effective and is a nice tool for the toolbox. But in the right situation. In 2015-16 he was able to mix things up to respond with what worked best against the defense, like in these cases:

Jackson drive 1 NBA.com/stats

Going straight at the rim was the preference.

Jackson drive 2 NBA.com/stats

And when defenses cheat to hang back in the paint to take away the rim, then Jackson responded with the floater.

Jackson floater NBA.com/stats

But last year, too often Jackson would turn to the floater at times when he’d be able to finish over or around a bigger defender in years past. These would be challenged shots from 6 to 10 feet, usually not a particularly high percentage shot - and one that’s going to take away the possibility of the 86 percent free throw shooter earning a trip to the line. That was partially reflected in Jackson’s free throw attempts per 100 possessions, which dropped from 7 to 4.8 last year.

Much of the problem in the difference in this area of Jackson’s game was health, but part of it was also the defense. In 2015-16 Jackson was able to operate in one-on-one situations, something he’s quite good at. He’s a tough player to defend on an island. But last year defenses were able to send more help Jackson’s way from the weak side.

Too often these were bad reads by Jackson, but there were also factors outside of his control as well. Sometimes just good defense from the other team, other times poor spacing decisions by his teammates - something Mike Snyder did a great job in laying out here.

Still, Jackson needs to be a more willing distributor if he’s going to be effective for the Pistons.

Coming off of what was an absolutely lousy season for Jackson, it’s easy to write him off as a loss for Detroit. But much of what made him special is still the case. He remains an excellent ball handler and is the type of player who can send opposing defenses scrambling. It’s too early to close the book on Jackson just yet.

But there are two keys for him on offense: his health and his decision-making.

His health is what it is. All we can do is cross our fingers on that front. We at least have some indicators we can follow early next year, so hopefully the team can be more responsive if Jackson isn’t fully healthy. Keep an eye on how often Jackson’s able to get all the way to the rim and how effective he is once he’s there.

Independent of Jackson’s health, he can certainly make strides as a passer. After averaging 14.7 assists per 100 possessions after his initial trade to the Pistons in 2015, he’s averaged just 10 per 100 possessions the past two years.

The Pistons were 28th in the league in assist percentage last season at 53 percent, a figure that dropped to 51.2 percent when Jackson stepped on the floor. Jackson wasn’t a boon to ball movement when he was on the floor in previous seasons either, but he’s capable of it. We saw flashes of it in his early days in a Pistons uniform.

Jackson is certainly capable of generating decent looks for himself while attacking the rim. But his willingness to use that ability to generate even better shots for his teammates will do plenty for both his and his team’s effectiveness on offense. And that’s something entirely within his control.

Of course, there is also his awful defense, but that’s probably mostly a lost cause at this point. In terms of looking for improvement out of Jackson, it’s more realistic to stick with areas that he’s been successful before rather than wishcasting.

Jackson has likely been on the trade block all summer after such a poor season, making $50 million remaining owed to him over the next three years look rather overwhelming. But if he can return to health and do a better job of getting teammates involved, Jackson’s tenure in Detroit can still be salvaged.