At the ripe old age of 22, Frank Jackson was already in NBA no-man’s land. After averaging 10 points a game in the NBA Bubble, his original team, the New Orleans Pelicans, declined to extend him a qualifying offer. The newly minted unrestricted free agent was signed and waived in the same month by the Oklahoma City Thunder (never a good sign if the retooling-from-the-studs-up Thunder waives you) and was completely available to all when the Detroit Pistons signed him to a two-way contract.
The hope at the time was that Frank would be a fifth point guard (behind Delon Wright, Killian Hayes, Derrick Rose, and Saben Lee), maybe flash enough to be included in a trade package as part of the Troy Weaver Restoration. And, for his first nine or so games, that was essentially how it went. WHEN he played, he played sparingly, alongside other guards, sharing ballhandling duties and shooting an arrhythmic 27% from the floor.
Then, Killian Hayes got hurt, Derrick Rose and Svi Mykhailiuk got traded, Hamidou Diallo (the return for Svi) was unable to play, and Frank ended up in the starting lineup on March 19 against the Houston Rockets:
From that game on, Frank was a consistent - and VALUABLE - part of the Pistons’ rotation.
Initially, Frank was asked to, well, initiate. After being a point guard in college and in the NBA, Frank was bringing the ball up, trying to distribute, the whole nine yards. What made Frank a revelation in Detroit was a change in role. With a plethora of point guards and not nearly enough shooting on the roster, the Pistons needed Frank Jackson to do his best Langston Galloway (another undersized not-really-a-point-guard who found success in Detroit) impersonation.
And impersonate Galloway he DID.
After becoming a true part of the rotation, Frank shot over 40% from downtown on roughly four attempts a game for the Pistons. His per-game averages (10 points, two rebounds, one assist) didn’t blow up Basketball Reference, but watching every night, the Pistons really made use of his shooting gravity.
All the while, though, he didn’t forget how to dribble. Frank could still put the ball on the floor a little bit. As teams started to take note of his shooting, he started making the next adjustment - attacking closeouts, collapsing defenses, finishing around the rim or getting fouled. A 25% free throw rate for a guy who was operating as a shooter is really impressive; Langston Galloway averages about a 15% free throw rate for his career, for comparison.
On defense, he’s undersized at “only” 6-foot-3, but he competes. It never felt like he was the main problem on defense with the Pistons can be part of a functional NBA defense. In a more realistic NBA role off the bench, in the regular season most teams will have other similarly-sized guards on the perimeter on THEIR bench that he can defend more capably.
Don’t ask him to defend Bradley Beal or Zach Lavine, but if he had to guard Malik Monk or Josh Hart he could absolutely do so.
It definitely felt like Frank had tunnel vision at times; that was a big reason why the point guard Frank Jackson experiment was not finding great success. Shifting to finishing plays instead of starting them helped with that, but ideally, you would like Frank to be able to do both capably. As a driver, he absolutely attacked closeouts, but as a scorer, not a passer. You’d love to see more playmaking in the flow of the offense; as the defense collapses, making the read to pass where the help was coming from.
As is, if Frank isn’t dropping in threes or getting to the rim, he’s not REALLY doing that much for a team. He doesn’t make an impact as a rebounder, we’ve talked about the tunnel vision, he’s a good defender but not one who creates extra possessions or severely limits his matchup.
Ultimately, Frank is a limited player, but effective in his role. That’s fine now but quickly gets to “Bad” if you plan on penciling him into the seventh or eighth spot on a Pistons team with any real playoff ambitions.
Does He Stay Or Does He Go
Only Frank, Saddiq Bey, and Wayne Ellington were reliable floor-spacers for the Pistons last year. You presume Wayne is gone, so that leaves only Frank and Saddiq as accurate, high-volume shooters on the Pistons. That alone could (should?) be enough for the Pistons to make an effort to retain Frank this offseason.
However, that shooting ability also makes him attractive to other teams. As a restricted free agent, the Pistons have the ability to match any contract offered to Frank, but between the salary cap room the no. 1 overall pick usually takes up (this is a good problem to have, mind you), the probable contract the team will offer to Hamidou Diallo, the decisions around Cory Joseph and Dennis Smith Jr, and the $32 million worth of dead salary the Pistons have on the books for 2021-22, it’s possible Frank gets a large enough contract to make it not worth the Pistons while.
It’s likely Frank Jackson is back with the Pistons next season, but it’s not a stone-cold lock in the way that, like, Saddiq Bey is going to be on the Pistons next season.