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The Reggie Jackson conundrum

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What do you do with the best of a batch of bad options?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

I blame Blake Murphy. He told me this would happen.

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Jose Calderon has played down the stretch of several games recently for the Detroit Pistons, doing everything you could ask for from a 37-year old PG, which is to say, not TOO much. In the meantime, former-Pistons-PGOTF-turned-albatross-contract Reggie Jackson is simultaneously on the bench and on the trade block with only fleeting glimpses of his former self.

Ish Smith is injured until 2019, most likely. The situation at point guard is not where anyone expected it to be 25 games into the season. And it’s Reggie Jackson’s fault.

What are the Pistons supposed to do with Reggie?

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Even after a 24-point explosion against the Wolves, Reggie Jackson has not been a great NBA player this season. He is averaging 15 points per game on 40/34/86, four assists and two turnovers per game, a personal NetRtg of -4.1. His usage rate is a Pistons-tenure low 22.7 percent.

He’s weighing down the Pistons’ core duo of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond:

Reggie is shooting a career-high six 3-pointers a game at that 34 percent number, and four assists a game is a full assist down from where he’s been for the last two (injury-plagued) seasons, and two assists per game down from where he was in ‘15-16. His assist rate is correspondingly down nine percent from last year. Never a “good” defender, he has a career-low personal defensive rating of 110.6. He’s averaging a career-high in fouls per game.

Reggie has not been good. And yet, he remains the best option at point guard on the Detroit Pistons’ roster, because Jose Calderon... has not been much better.

Calderon is slashing 33/13/71 in limited minutes. Usage rate is a minuscule 12 percent. Personal NetRTG of -2.5. Assist rate of 28.4 (to Reggie’s 23.3). True Shooting percentage of 38 percent. Detroit has a positive NetRTG when Calderon shares the court with Blake and Andre, but sub-100 ORTG and DRTG don’t inspire confidence:

Calderon, again, is also 37 years old, and it is insanity to exert a 37-year old NBA player any more than you have to, no matter how well he may or may not be playing.

So Reggie’s been bad, and the player you would also turn to instead of him has been bad. Detroit really only has two options from here - find someone better to play point guard, or get Reggie to play better.

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Finding someone better to play point guard is... harder than it sounds. The Pistons are a hair’s breadth away from the luxury tax, and have done multiple contortions that point to a commitment to not pay said tax.

Flipping Ish Smith (a worse player but better contract than Reggie) for a point guard that can start without going into the luxury tax is a difficult square to circle. Not only do you have to find someone who makes less than Ish, that team has to want to part with that player for Ish (I call this the “Why Would X Do That?” test). You tell me who on this list both makes less than $6 million and is unwanted by their current club.

Along the same lines, you can really only flip Jose Calderon for another (unwanted) point guard making the vet minimum - again, an uninspiring list of candidates. Tim Frazier, anyone?

Trading Reggie for a better point guard without attaching things (like Luke Kennard or a future first-round pick) other teams want that the Pistons shouldn’t attach is even more difficult, given Reggie’s contract and poor level of play. Sure, Detroit could attach those things, but let’s pretend they know what they’re doing even a LITTLE bit.

Flipping Reggie for a worse point guard who is unwanted, but makes less could be interesting - A Brandon Knight reunion tour? A front-row seat to the Jordan Clarkson experience? No, you’re right, that’s bile-inducing as well.

So, with a trade of these particular PGs unlikely (not out-of-the-question, but unlikely), we turn to option 2: Getting Reggie to play better.

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Reggie Jackson is a career 32 percent 3-point shooter. That’s below-average for a guard in the NBA. He is shooting 33 percent from three this season — also below average. His strength has never been taking 3-pointers. And yet, he is taking a massive 47 percent of his shots from three this season. For comparison, Damian Lillard (shooting 39 percent from deep this year, a career 37 percent shooter from deep) is taking 40 percent of his shots from three.

Tweaking that shot ratio seems like an obvious place to start with making Reggie more effective. Again, not “good.” More effective. Less bad. Cutting down on Reggie’s threes should shift some of those possessions into perhaps the only trick left in Reggie’s bag — the pick and roll.

Jackson hasn’t been the PNR ballhandler he has been in the past — look at the point-per-possession differences between his 2017 and ’18 numbers:

Reggie Jackson 2017 Synergy
Reggie Jackson 2018 Synergy

The film tells the same tale. Jackson is still able to use picks and a live dribble to craft his way into the paint, then use his long arms to get up shots. Those shots just... don’t go in as much as they used to:

However, Detroit is so starved for offense not derived entirely from Blake Griffin that having a less-effective method of scoring points is still worth utilizing. I’m not saying half of Reggie’s possessions need to be PNRs, I’m saying that Reggie is the only guard on the Pistons who can even get into the paint and score with a modicum of efficiency, which gives him value.

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I don’t like this any more than you do.

I have eyes. I clearly can see Reggie hasn’t been good this year. I have mentioned Reggie’s not-goodness multiple times within this very piece.

I can also see that the Pistons can’t win with the end-of-game offense they’ve deployed the past three games. If Detroit leverages Blake Griffin any harder, he’ll be a sub-prime asset on the court and on the books. There’s only so many times you can watch Blake post, catch, dribble, then spin towards the middle - into the long teeth of an NBA defense.

I don’t have a clean solution to this conundrum: Reggie Jackson is the only person who can solve this puzzle. And the longer he takes, the worse it is for Detroit.