Which Piston has the most to prove?

Mar 31, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson (1) goes to the basket during the first quarter against the Atlanta Hawks at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 31, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson (1) goes to the basket during the first quarter against the Atlanta Hawks at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

While Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris will be fighting to hold spots in the starting lineup and avoid slipping down the rotation, Brandon Jennings has the widest range of possible outcomes for the season, and Andre Drummond is the hopeful and expected centerpiece of future, the player far and away most likely to make or break Detroit’s present and future is Reggie Jackson.

Most crucially, we don’t really know how good Jackson will be. Jackson played really well as a Piston last season. He wasn’t and probably never will be a first tier point guard. Think guys like Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall. But he played like he fully belonged on the second tier with Mike Conley, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, and perhaps a few others. If Jackson continues to play that way moving forward, the Pistons should be thrilled.

However, those who know the absolute basics of statistics are aware that it is almost always foolhardy to focus on a 27 game sample while essentially ignoring the other 245 games. All else being equal, the nine times bigger sample holds far more predictive value. But of course, no all else is equal. Jackson has a case to weigh his last 27 games particularly heavily.

In ascending order of importance:
First, the 27 games with Detroit were the most recent of his career. They give the best perspective on where he is now as opposed to where he once was. Except for the most consistent players, we rarely look at career averages to make projections. We tend to look at career trajectories and extrapolate–while also regressing to the mean a bit to avoid overreacting to blips. 27 games isn’t enough to fully rewrite the book on a player, but it’s also more than a blip.
Second, those 27 games with the Pistons gave Jackson a more similar role, setting, and surrounding circumstances to what we can expect for him moving forward than any of the prior 245. So each of them should be considered more strongly than each of the prior games for predictive purposes. That, of course, leaves open to interpretation how much more heavily. Because even if you gave them triple weight, the sheer numbers of prior games would still amount to a lot more.
Third, Jackson actually has a history in Oklahoma City of playing much better as a starting point guard than coming off the bench where he often had to put in some minutes at shooting guard. As the table below shows, he wasn’t as good in that scenario as he was with Detroit, but he was a major step up from his career numbers. Jackson’s play as a starter in OKC should probably be considered the lowest reasonable expectations for him moving forward:

minutes per gamepoints per gameassists per gamerebounds per gamethree point %PER
starter in Detroit32.
starter in OKC33.315.
reserve in OKC18.

Besides uncertainty concerning the caliber of player that Jackson really is, he has now been locked in for five years at a contract rate that will be an absolute steal if he does prove to be a solid, second-tier point guard. If he’s a below average starter, the Pistons were a long-shot to ever go far before blowing it up anyway, but Jackson’s contract would become a burden on the team.

Finally, the Jackson trade and signing is Stan Van Gundy’s best opportunity to have a massively positive move to hang his hat on. Acquiring Ersan Ilyasova and Marcus Morris were minor moves. They could be really important, but probably only if the Pistons get good enough that they can be a cherry on top as opposed to what makes the team good. Van Gundy’s only other major moves have been the Josh Smith debacle and picking Stanley Johnson over Justise Winslow. The former really has no way to become a positive. The latter was a big gamble, but that means it could turn out really well. The odds just aren’t as good as they are for Jackson.

The Pistons have bet their chips on Jackson. I like the bet if for no other reason than that there wasn’t a better option and going for broke is typically the best strategy in the perverse incentive structure of the NBA. But now they need him, more than any other player on the team, to really come through.

Next: Detroit Pistons roster analysis: Point guards

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