Josh Jackson was the home-grown collegiate star and reclamation project Detroit fans could get behind. Just 23 years old, the Pistons represented his third team in his fourth professional season. Not exactly the expected path for a former fourth overall pick.
With lower expectations, local affections and a coach who could provide support, stability and accountability, Jackson seemed to have his last, best chance with the Pistons. Luckily for everyone involved, Jackson took advantage and showed he still had something to offer the NBA game. He also showed, however, that he has plenty of growth to do — both from a mental maturity standpoint and also from a skill-building perspective.
There was probably no player on the court who more consistently brought maximum effort to the floor other than Isaiah Stewart. He was never afraid to shoot, never afraid to attack the basket, never afraid to push the ball in transition and rifle a pass to a teammate. Good intentions did not always lead to good results, however.
Still, this year wasn’t about winning games or eliminating mistakes. It was about growing, and Jackson had the trust from Dwane Casey to miss provided the shots he was taking were good shots.
And Jackson shot. A lot. He was third on the team in shots per 36 minutes at 16.3 trailing only Derrick Rose and Jerami Grant. And being in the same list as Rose is instructive because to my mind, watching Josh Jackson on the floor reminded me a lot of the 1.5 seasons of Rose that I watched.
Jackson, like Rose, created a lot of his own offense, but unlike Rose, he was also firing consistently from the perimeter. They were both much better at playing downhill than really finding ways to get quality looks for teammates. The big difference between the two were aesthetic in nature, and I had a blast experiencing the highs and lows of Josh Jackson on the floor compared to Derrick Rose.
Because Rose was a point guard and had the ability to break down his opponents, Rose had a penchant for screeching the offense to a halt and dribbling the air out of the ball. Rose is a gifted offensive player, so it often led to good results, especially last season.
Jackson, meanwhile, seemed to want the ball in his hands as little as possible. When he got the rock, he was either shooting a jumper or charging full steam ahead into the paint.
Look at this highlight package from the night he scored a season-high 31 points in a blowout of the Washington Wizards. It is a display in his constant movement, his willingness to drive into a lane (even if it’s occupied) and how few dribbles he takes between the catch and shoot.
In a rebuild, it’s probably a good thing to have an unrepentant gunner on the floor, while some of the rookies might be hesitant to make a mistake or let an opponent’s run get into their heads. He also showed off some of that passing ability as he would take a screen and if a shot wasn’t there would keep moving until a passing lane or a shot opened up.
The short version of Josh Jackson’s season was this — when he was on the floor, all the things happened. Good things and bad things. But it was never stagnant. And when he got it going, he was a blast to watch.
When Jackson didn’t have it going, man, it could get ugly. One-third of Jackson’s games saw him have as many or more field goal attempts as he did points. And his poor 51.6% true shooting percentage actually represented the second-best mark of his career aside from the 54.7% mark as a part-time player with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Because of the spacing issues in Detroit and Jackson’s proclivity from charging into the paint anyway, he hit only 61% near the rim. He could pull off some pretty remarkable finishes, but there were also plenty of ill-advised floaters and blocked attempts.
Jackson’s teammate Jerami Grant unsurprisingly led the team in shots with 932. Jackson was second with 707. Grant was second in attempts that were blocked by opponents with 58. Jackson, despite more than 200 fewer attempts, led the team in blocked attempts with 70. That means nearly 10% of all Jackson’s attempts were blocked last season.
Jackson can do a lot of things on the floor, and he does it with aplomb, but the only way Jackson is going to be anything more than a marginal rotation player on a bad team or a fringe roster player on a good team is if he is able to develop a reliable 3-point shot.
Jackson attempted a career-high 257 3s last season, but he only connected on 30% of his attempts. That’s just not going to cut it. If he can edge that up to 34% it goes from a glaring red flag to a marginal issue, and he if can boost that up even moe into the 37%-plus range, he officially becomes a dangerous player.
A plus perimeter shot opens up all kinds of possibilities for Jackson’s driving game and opens up even more passing lanes. Will it ever happen? Unclear, but I’d be shocked if it wasn’t a priority for him in the offseason.
Does He Stay or Does He Go
The Detroit Pistons offense was incredibly reliant on Josh Jackson in 2020-21. The Pistons offense was also a bottom-five attack in the league. Less Jackson, assuming he doesn’t develop that 3-point shot, is likely a good thing for Detroit.
And the Pistons nabbing the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft seems likely to make Jackson much more expendable than he would be if the Pistons were picking in the 4-6 range. Looking throughout the past 20 years of No. 1 picks, you’re likely to play 30 minutes per game and sometimes as much as 36 minutes per game.
If the Pistons take Cade Cunningham as expected and he has a healthy rookie year, you have to carve out 2,400 minutes, and those minutes have to come from somewhere. That could mean Jackson comes from rotation staple to odd man out. He doesn’t provide the shooting potential of restricted free agent Frank Jackson or a developmental commitment and upside of Hamidou Diallo.
Jackson could find himself on the outer edges of the rotation or used as a trade trip for Detroit. His $5 million salary is expiring and could be easily moved to a team to re-balance the roster with a similar talent that might be a better fit or aggregated with another piece (Mason Plumlee, Jahlil Okafor, Sekou Doumbouya) to trade for a more significant salary.