Josh Jackson is having himself a pretty good year with the Detroit Pistons. Despite two stretches sustaining and returning from injury lowering his season averages, it’s been easily Jackson’s best season in the NBA.
If you want to hear more on that specifically and how well he’s played outside of his non-100 percent stretches, I made this video for you all to check out.
Jackson has been a fantastic signing for Troy Weaver and the Pistons this year. However, there are obviously places Jackson must improve upon if he plans on continuing this upward trajectory.
Many will point to his outside shooting because, well, duh. Jackson is shooting 28.1% from deep this season— not very good at all. Obviously, that outside shooting will continue to be a point of emphasis in the offseason.
Another area, though, that Jackson needs to get improve on is his decision-making and playmaking. These two things go hand in hand.
Something Pistons fans have learned this season is that there are very few players that can stop Jackson from getting to the paint when he wants to get there. His explosion, long strides, athleticism, and wingspan make it an incredibly hard task for opposing defenses to accomplish.
Defenses have countered by loading the paint and throwing multiple defenders at Jackson when he attacks the rim.
Sometimes, of course, it just doesn't matter. Jackson is a freak athlete and a really good finisher, scoring 1.20 points per possession around the rim (non-post ups)—which is in the 59th percentile. Because Jackson is capable of finishing no matter if the defense helps, it clouds his decision-making and often gets him in trouble. His numbers would likely look even better if he eliminated some of the “hard” difficulty finishes he forces upon himself.
While he can sometimes skillfully finish through help defense and multiple defenders, it’s not a formula you really want to keep returning to—unless you’re LeBron James, of course. While it works out for Jackson sometimes, a lot of the times he gets stuck forcing a bad shot, as you see in the clip above (even though his aggressiveness on the glass gets him an easy second-chance bucket).
This is where his decision-making and playmaking must improve. When defenses start to show a player like Jackson this type of respect going to the rim, you can absolutely make them pay more often than not by making the right play and decision.
Dwane Casey actually was asked directly about this and offered up a great quote:
“He’s a smart player. When I sit down with Josh and watch video, he sees the play he should’ve made. It’s a growth area for him.”
Casey said this March 14. I do not believe it is a coincidence that Jackson then followed that up with a season-high six assists on March 17 in a win against the Toronto Raptors. It’s clear Casey sees this and is reinforcing it, and according to the film, Jackson at least realized it as well against the Raptors.
Take the play above. Jackson easily gets by Chris Boucher on the perimeter and draws the help of Pascal Siakam. All season, Jackson almost always would go up with this shot himself and make life harder on himself. In this play, however, you can almost see Jackson realize there’s another play to be made before he even leaves his feet.
He makes a nice pass to Delon Wright coming down the baseline, who finishes the play with a layup. Plays like this are available for Jackson a handful of times each game and he’d really take his game to the next level if he started to make them routinely.
Too many times this year, Jackson has done the exact play in the above clip. Drive to the rim, utilizing a spin-move, and if it’s not there force the shot up anyways. Not only does it hurt Jackson’s numbers, but it also just hurts the Pistons' offense. However, he did something different against the Raptors.
In this play, Jackson is driving against Siakam. Again, he uses one of his favorite moves in the spin-move. Siakam walls him off and Boucher also comes over to take away any chance at a step-through. Instead of forcing a shot up anyways, Jackson makes not only the right basketball play but a great basketball play.
Jackson realizes someone must be open and finds him in Saddiq Bey behind him on the three-point line. This causes Boucher to closeout wildly from the help defense position he was for Jackson and gets Bey a wide-open three after a pump-fake. This play was made by Jackson and is a play he’s capable of making whenever his mind decides to.
I’m a sucker for lob passes. I’m sorry, but if you are capable of throwing accurate lob passes it opens up so much for yourself and your teammates. Jackson takes advantage of the open window for a lob coming off the handoff, as Aaron Baynes is too focused on stopping the supreme athlete flying down the middle. Again, another play made because of Jackson’s ability to get to the rim and his willingness to make the right play this game.
This is a lesson players like Jackson need to learn. Everyone wants to score, and when you’re capable of making tough finishes like Jackson is, it’s tempting to try and do it every time down the floor. However, Jackson should also take great pride and respect in making these types of plays.
You want to know why these plays are now open for you, Josh? Because defenses are showing you a ton of respect! They know how great of a driver you are and how hard it is to stop you from getting to the rim one-on-one. The league is noticing you and paying you great respect by bringing the amount of help they are on defense.
This is how players like Jackson make defenses pay. Instead of looking at it as a missed opportunity to score, look at it as a sign of respect from defenses and still making them pay anyways. Jackson had one of his best games of the season against the Raptors and his play had a large part in why the Pistons won.
If these film sessions Casey is having with Jackson continue to show results like this on the court, it’ll help Jackson take the next step in his development. Not only is it improving his playmaking, showing the ability to make those plays will make defenses hesitate and throwing that help defense at Jackson and freeing up more opportunities to score—which the 24-year-old loves to do.
The Raptors game was a nice step in the right direction. Jackson will make Weaver’s signing look even better if he makes this a new normal in the second half of the season.
He’s capable of doing so, and as Casey said, Josh Jackson knows that too.