It’s the time of year when the player rankings leading up to the start of the 2018-19 season start rolling in. Sports Illustrated kicked theirs off first (ESPN won’t be far behind).
The first and only Piston ranked in positions 51-100 which were released Monday is Reggie Jackson, who just squeezed in by the skin of his teeth at number 97.
Stan Van Gundy bet the house on Jackson (14.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 5.3 APG) and lost. In 2015, the longtime coach targeted the stubborn, capable point guard as the centerpiece of a win-now spending spree aimed at fast-tracking the Pistons back to the postseason. The plan worked momentarily, as Jackson turned in a career year en route to the 2016 playoffs. But Jackson’s spotty health plunged Detroit back into the lottery in 2017 and 2018, and Van Gundy was fired in May. The final stats on the Jackson/Van Gundy marriage: $80 million, one playoff trip, zero playoff wins, two season-altering injuries, numerous post-game rants, and one desperate Blake Griffin trade that will likely clog Detroit’s books for years to come.
While Jackson, 28, is a bit of a forgotten man at this point, it’s worth noting that Detroit played at a 49-win place last season with him in the lineup. To piece his reputation back together, Jackson will need to prove that he can still get to the rim consistently, shoot the three far better than he did in 2017-18, and stay healthy for a full season. With Griffin and Andre Drummond now capable of handling some of the playmaking load, Detroit can make the playoffs without Jackson turning back the clock to his 2016 form. Expecting Jackson to be a franchise point guard was always asking too much, but he has enough talent and experience to be recast effectively in a smaller role if he’s willing.
That’s a pretty dead-on assessment of Jackson and his situation at this point, and you can’t really argue with his ranking especially after he only dropped a relative few spots from number 78 last season. I’m sure Reggie won’t be happy seeing bench point guards Fred VanVleet (number 94) and Terry Rozier (number 82) ranked ahead of him but he ought to take that as fuel and see that he’s also ranked well behind other middling starting ones Jeff Teague (number 57), Jamal Murray (number 55), and Eric Bledsoe (number 53).
Ranking 50-31 came out on Tuesday, with Andre Drummond coming in at number 46 (up from number 51 last year) and Blake Griffin tumbling to number 41 from number 22 last year.
Here’s what they had to say about Andre:
Give Drummond (15 PPG, 16 RPG, 1.6 BPG) credit for seeking methods to evolve his game rather than settling for the dunk-and-rebound stereotype. Last season, the two-time All-Star center reclaimed his status as the NBA’s leading rebounder while also emerging as a capable distributor from the high post and a much-improved foul shooter. Then, in August, he vowed to add the three-point shot to his offensive repertoire after attempting just 30 total threes in his first six seasons.
Unfortunately, Drummond’s explorative forays haven’t always produced clear progress in terms of his individual value or his team’s success. While his assist rate improved dramatically in 2017-18, so did his turnover rate. And while all sorts of centers are plotting how they can transform into stretch-fives, Drummond hasn’t exactly demonstrated much touch: He shot an abysmal 31.4% on shots from 3-10 feet and 28.6 from the mid-range last year. Frankly, the Pistons’ offense would be better off if he was never allowed to shoot from outside three feet.
On the other end, the Drummond/Blake Griffin tandem fared well in a small sample size, providing some much-needed optimism for the wheel-spinning Pistons. Drummond, 25, might never fulfill his wildest dreams, but his size, durability, rebounding instincts and gradual refinements set him apart from replacement-level starting centers.
Again SI is pretty spot-on in their assessment of Andre, including zeroing in on the
absurdity of potential issues with Dre shooting threes. As with Reggie and the players ranked above him, Drummond will I’m sure not be especially pleased with trailing older traditional centers like DeAndre Jordan (number 43) and Marc Gasol (number 40) as well as younger ones in Steven Adams (number 38) and Clint Capela (number 34). Unicorn fives are another story and haven’t even started showing up yet.
Blake Griffin’s fall is pretty shocking, at least for the Kool Aid set. Here’s what SI had to say for themselves about the ranking:
Last season, Griffin (21.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 5.8 APG) posted a points/rebounds/assists line that was matched only by a pair of MVPs: LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. But that superstar-like productivity came draped with red flags: Griffin missed at least 15 games for the fourth straight season, his teams were 28-30 with him on the court, he ranked outside the top-50 in Real Plus-Minus, and his PER and True Shooting % reached career-lows. Unfortunately, a midseason trade to Detroit failed to reverse these trends. That blockbuster deal was harsh and illuminating, as it marked the first time that the Clippers had treated Griffin—whose dynamic athleticism has flatlined due to a series of injuries—as a $173 million contract rather than as a franchise player.
As Griffin has sought to modernize his game and protect his body by playmaking from the perimeter and shooting more threes, he’s triggered an identity crisis. After the trade to the Pistons, he took just 21% of his shots from within three feet, well off the 44% from his peak posterization days. Similarly, he attempted just 4.4 free throws per game after the trade, sharply down from 8.4 per game back when he was an MVP candidate. The overwhelming night-to-night physicality that once made Griffin so special appears gone for good at age 29, leaving him as a good-but-not-great scoring threat and an adequate defender.
This seems a bit overly harsh to my admittedly sugary drink poisoned mind, seemingly missing out on his passing and focused attempts to change his game but hey. The one player ranked ahead of him that stands out is the player he shared the twitterverse with earlier in the offseason, Kevin Love who is a whopping ten spots above him at number 31.
What are your thoughts? Please let ‘em rip below.
P.S. In case you haven’t peeked already, Tobias Harris comes in at #65 and, would you look at that, Avery Bradley....isn’t.... ranked! (In fact he didn’t even make their top 25 snubs list)