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How Reggie Jackson’s timely revival is reigniting Detroit’s playoff push

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Blake Griffin needs help on the offensive end for the Detroit Pistons to enjoy any kind of sustainable success. As of late, that help has come in the form of Reggie Jackson.

Denver Nuggets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

If you’re an outsider ‘round these parts, first off, welcome. Second, and just as a heads up, you might hear us DBBers refer to “2015-16 Reggie Jackson” in overly glowing terms and I feel it’s important to understand the context.

I’ll admit that, at times, the romanticizing of Reggie Jackson’s 2015-16 season kind of reminds me of those local fishing legends in which the fish keeps getting bigger each time the story is told.

Despite what folklore would have you believe, Jackson’s performance that year was good, but far from great. He was an 18 and six non-All-Star point guard whose team got swept in the first round of the playoffs. I mean, what’s the big deal, right?

Well, the “big deal” won’t be found in the box score.

Jackson’s offensive skill set of shot creation, decisive penetration, and the pick-and-roll chemistry with Andre Drummond was, in large part, the team’s identity and focal point then Head Coach/President Stan Van Gundy wanted to build around.

Jackson would go on to miss a considerable amount of time over the next two seasons due to knee and ankle injuries.

With so much of the Pistons’ relative success wrapped up in Jackson’s on-court style, the Pistons’ offense couldn’t function properly with him off the court. Without Jackson, the pecking order was out of whack resulting in a team with no clearly defined roles or responsibilities. A loss deriving from the Pistons beating themselves was annoyingly commonplace as the offense during the final two seasons of SVG could best be described as stepping on rakes:

So when you see DBBers in our message board, or maybe in the wild on Twitter, yearning for the return of 2015-16 Reggie Jackson, we’re not talking about 18 points and six assists, we’re talking about a specific set of skills of which that Jackson owned.

Well, don’t look now sports fans, but that Reggie Jackson is back!

Kind of.

Over the last 10 games, Reggie Jackson (19 points, 48-percent three point shooting, six assists in that span) has shown extended flashes of off-the-bounce explosion and, just as important, the unbridled late-game cojones that produced results like this back during that magical season:

Down by 50 (as many as 18 in the third-quarter in reality) heading into the final four minutes of the game at Portland, Jackson single-handedly put the squad on his back and scored the game’s final 51 (26 fourth-quarter points in reality) points. Pistons win. I was there (I wasn’t), it was incredible, and quite possibly the biggest fish I’ve ever seen.

With Blake Griffin doing most of the heavy lifting these days, the Pistons don’t necessarily need Hero-Ball Reggie to make an appearance this year. However, if they hold any serious thoughts of making a playoff run then they do require the services of Hero-Ball Reggie’s not-so-distant cousin, a Mr. Confident Reggie.

It’s that lack of confidence, in actual physical ability or just his role on the team in general, that doomed his last two seasons, and in turn, the the Pistons’ fate as well.

Jackson still has much to prove, against stiffer competition for one, but his recent play has been a much needed booster shot and we should probably give credit where credit is due.

What does that Jackson look like? Let’s find out.

Off-the-ball

No other Pistons’ player has been asked to redefine their game more than Reggie Jackson since the acquisition of Blake Griffin, but we knew that:

The mystery heading into the season was: how long will it take for Jackson to feel comfortable in his new role? His recent surge suggests the answer might’ve been around 45 games.

As containment of Blake Griffin continues to be the top priority of opposing defenses, Reggie Jackson is cashing in at a holy moly rate:

Jackson is connecting on over 50-percent on increased volume of his catch-and-shoot three-point attempts in the last 10 games bringing his YTD (under the same conditions) to a smidge under 40-percent. Last season saw Jackson hit on 32-percent of spot-ups, so, yeah, it’s quite the noticeable bump.

Each time Griffin touches paint off dribble penetration, he compiles strong-side digging help defenders at an alarmingly high rate:

Granting Jackson the opportunity to hoist freely.

Thanks to speedy ball reversals and skip passes, his spot-up long-ball is just as valuable on the weak-side:

I swear, at times, this teams looks like it’s actually playing basketball. As for Jackson, 78-percent of this made threes on the year have been assisted, which is a 20-percent increase from the season before.

Don’t worry transition hoops fans, we didn’t forget about you. Sharing the court with additional reliable ball-handlers (i.e. Blake Griffin) allows Jackson to seamlessly fill the deep corners and wings after a change of possession:

Reggie Jackson, once aptly described solely as a PNR point guard, has proven to be an off-ball threat from deep.

Pick-and-roll

Over the last two years, Jackson’s bread-and-butter PNR lacked the overall impact it so desperately needed in order for the team to find success. The Cleveland Indians’ stud pitcher Ricky Vaughn knows what I’m talking about:

Vaughn called his go-to fastball “The Terminator” and, sadly, The Terminator lost its way during the Tribe’s chaotic 1994 regular season. Twitter, of course, had a field day with it. Fans renamed it “The Hibernator” and even his own teammate, the loathsome Jack Parkman, got in on the joke.

It’s not that the Pistons refrained from using the pick-and-roll during Jackson’s injury-riddled seasons, it’s that the sequence didn’t include the extra bit of oomph attached to it did like in 2015-16, or like Vaughn’s dominate ol’ number one during the Indians’ iconic 1989 pennant chase.

Earlier this season, first year head coach Dwane Casey hardly employed the Jackson-led PNR choosing to emphasize ball movement and Griffin’s solo act instead.

The times they are a changin’, though.

As discussed on the last DBB pod (A+ as always, gentlemen), was it Casey’s change of heart on the PNR that encouraged Jackson’s revival or did a finally-healthy Jackson cause Casey to think twice on its use, is a fun question to ponder. Nevertheless, the Jackson-led PNR with pick-a-Detroit-big as the on-ball screen setter is causing defensive headaches.

Teams like the Milwaukee Bucks who subscribe religiously to rim protection have been floated and mid-ranged to death during Jackson’s run:

I’ve got such a love/hate relationship with that floater.

Go under the screen after I just told you about those lofty three-point percentages?

Detroit can now ignite the pick-and-roll as the primary option in the halfcourt:

Or simply within the flow of the offense, often times used in conjunction with those pesky ball-reversals:

As defenses start paying more respect to Jackson’s scoring, the door swings open for oh-so-easy additional helpers:

It should come as no surprise that Jackson’s PNR rebirth has also elevated the efficiency and play of Andre Drummond:

I affectionately call the Jackson/Drummond PNR “The Terminator”, but if you can consistently stop it, I’ll let you rename it.

First step

And finally, Reggie Jackson’s first step explosion has been retrieved.

Under his updated job description, penetration has been more about quality than quantity. Jackson’s current (rough) average of eight drives per game is almost four less drives per game than a year ago. But this year, and especially during the current hot streak, he’s driving with a purpose:

And that purpose has been to procure buckets.

The newly discovered first step pairs nicely with his newly discovered spot-up shooting prowess and it keeps the defense on a constant yo-yo of in-and-out recovery:

Making life much easier, again, for his thankful teammates:

When Blake Griffin and the new-new Reggie Jackson share the court, it’s a versatile-enough of a duo that can sufficiently steer the franchise out of troubled waters and back towards the lower-end of the Eastern Conference playoff chase. I’ll take it.

But I get it, though. From the outside looking in, eavesdropping on us DBBers daydreaming about the return of 2015-16 Reggie Jackson might sound like a hometown version of Bill Brasky’s superhuman tall tales:

But if that son-of-a-bitch Reggie Jackson can keep this up, things are gonna start to get real interesting ‘round these parts.