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2017-18 Pistons review: Reggie Jackson provided more questions than answers

Reviewing Reggie Jackson’s 2017-18 season.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

27-18 and 12-25.

By now, we all should know what those numbers represent. For those whose housing preference is under a rock, the 27-18 equates to the Pistons’ record with Reggie Jackson in uniform while 12-25 was the drastically less-than Pistons’ record with Jackson in street clothes.

Stretched out over a full 82 games, 27-18 is on track for a 49-win season. In 2017-18, 49 wins would’ve earned the Pistons the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and an intriguing date with LeBron James in the first round of the playoffs. For what it’s worth, Hypnowheel and his delicious kool-aid had the hypothetical series ending in six games and in Detroit’s favor.

But, of course, none of that happened.

Instead, the Pistons finished 39-43 and out the playoffs. Again.

Heading towards the off-season and into next year there are some mega Jackson-related questions hanging over the heads of the TBD Pistons’ front office and, more importantly, over the collective brain trust at DBB.

Can Jackson stay healthy?

Was the with-Jackson Pistons’ record a mirage or sustainable?

Can the high-usage Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin co-exist?

Those are some pretty big motza balls. Below, I’ll do my best to answer those questions while mixing in the highs and lows from Jackson’s season. The Reggie Jackson experiment has been somewhat polarizing so play nice all you comment section participates.

Can Jackson stay healthy?

Without health, the answers to the rest of the questions don’t matter.

Jackson suffered a severe ankle sprain on December 26th against the Indiana Pacers. It looked bad and it was bad (don’t watch if you’re squeamish) The grade-3 sprain caused Jackson to miss 37 games and his absence essentially doomed Detroit’s season.

In a vacuum, an ankle sprain is rather common among basketball players and shouldn’t be alarming unless your name is Jon Leuer. Jackson, however, owns a history of knee problems (missed 30 games in 2016-17) and an asthma issue which has played a small role in quick dehydration and exhaustion.

If there is a silver-lining to the ankle, knees and asthma dilemma, it’s that there is no kinetic-chain breakdown as the root cause to all three. The ankle injury can be dismissed as random (acute) but the knee and asthma, while not clearly connected, should probably be classified as chronic. Predicting injuries is a losing business and something I’d like to steer clear of. How injuries have affected Jackson’s on-court performance, however, is fair game.

Present-day Reggie Jackson is a pirated version of the player who arrived in Detroit of February of 2015. Still just 28-years-old, all the buzzwords associated with athleticism seem to be in decline and his 2017-18 film lines up with what the numbers are suggesting.

Per Cleaning the Glass, only 22-percent of Jackson’s shot attempts came at the rim (0-4 feet), a career low in frequency. Instead, he opted for more mid-range (all two-point attempts not at the rim) shots which accounted for 51-percent (career high) of all Jackson field goal attempts.

If you’ve followed Jackson at all this season, this push-shot should look rather familiar:

In an increasing analytical-driven basketball world, these types of shots are falling quickly out of favor.

Jackson only converted on 55-percent of his rim attacks which put him in the 41st-percentile of point guards. It would seem to suggest that his explosion and aggression are being hampered by the knee tendinitis.

Despite owning some desired physical measurables, he’s never been a plus-defender and the inability to stay in front of the ball-handler is worrisome:

The NBA’s obsession for rest combined with Jackson’s history pretty much rules out playing in 82 games. If Jackson can’t participate in at least 68 games next year, his reputation on DBB is going to take another significant hit.

Was the with-Jackson Pistons’ record a mirage or sustainable?

Had the season ended on November 29th 2017, your Pistons, 14-6 at the time, would’ve been tied for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference! Unfortunately, the NBA moved to an 82 game schedule for the 1967-68 season. Detroit would eventually earn a 19-14 record before Jackson going down.

Despite the snark and the health concerns from above, by any reasonable objective viewpoint, the Pistons were a much better team with Jackson than without. To paint a clear(er) picture on his positive impact, it’s probably better to look at his play in the 33 games before the ankle injury.

Jackson has always been sold as a scoring point guard but demonstrated a mature balance of “getting his” while also opportunistically involving his teammates in those first 33 games.

Skip passes, that were few or between previously, saw an uptick and kept half-court defenses on their heels:

It shows a comprehension of what’s happening in front of him. There was no panic when teams trapped Jackson on the PNR. Instead, Jackson calmly and continually made the right pass.

Cherry picking Detroit’s 9-3 November, the Pistons shot 42.7 percent on catch-and-shoot possessions thanks in large part to timely Jackson dimes. April - with Jackson back - was the only other month the Pistons shot higher than 40 percent in those scenarios.

His chemistry with Andre Drummond in the pick-and-roll was, and is, undeniable:

Despite just playing just 45 games, no one assisted on more Drummond makes than Jackson.

The increased emphasis of DHOs came with Stan Van Gundy’s motion offense. As a concept, DHOs are, functionally, PNRs and the magic carried over:

In total, 33-percent of Pistons’ buckets were assisted by Jackson when he was on the floor pitting him in the 84th percentile of point guards.

Jackson’s box score averages of 14 points and five assists won’t cause any double takes from outsiders, but in this case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Simply put, his skill set means more to Detroit than it would any other team.

There is no reason to believe the Pistons wouldn’t be that projected 49-win team had Reggie Jackson not gone down.

Can the high-usage Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin co-exist?

I see it all the time: “The Chris Paul-Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan Clippers teams never won anything and Reggie Jackson isn’t better than Paul.”

If you’re a “rings are the only thing that matters” kind of fan, then yes, they didn’t win anything. If, however, you’re a “context matters” kind of fan, then there is some hope for the Jackson-Griffin-Drummond Pistons.

The spectrum for lack of post-season success during the Big 3 Clippers-era goes from untimely injuries to untimely Josh Smith threes. The on-court partnership of the high-usage Chris Paul and the high-usage Blake Griffin is not part of those wide-ranging reasons.

Chris Paul is on another planet compared to Reggie Jackson but the transformation of Griffin’s game will help to close the overall gap. In fact, you could make a case that present-day Griffin, with the sufficient long-distance shooting and increased play-making, alongside Jackson and Drummond is a better offensive “fit” than Paul, retro-Griffin and Jordan. Not more talented but a better basketball fit.

The Clippers nailed the hard part in nabbing their trio and it was their surrounding cast where they fell short. Ultimately (and assuming health), the fate of the relative success of Detroit’s Big 3 will boil down to putting the right players around them.

Due to Jackson’s injury and Griffin’s late-season ankle bruise, the duo only shared 85 offensive possessions during ‘17-’18 which is hardly enough to draw sufficient conclusions. No matter who the new coach is, one thing is almost for certain, the pick-and-roll and drag screens aren’t going anywhere:

And neither is Griffin’s bully-ball:

Having two distinctly different players who can put the ball on the floor and make plays is a good thing.

Lou Williams, a similar high-usage, shoot first point guard with a troublesome knee, enjoyed a career-year in Los Angeles and, before the big trade, quickly developed chemistry in the half-court with Griffin:

And on the run:

The Clippers were a top-10 offensive team before the trade. Why can’t this work in Detroit?

Both Jackson and Griffin can conduct the pick-and-roll and there are few who provide better vertical spacing in the league than Drummond. Again, though, they’re not the issue.