Exploring Reggie Jackson’s struggles


Detroit Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson has struggled on both ends of the floor this season, prompting many questions about his future in Detroit and the near-future of the Pistons franchise as a whole. Does Stan Van Gundy need to move on just two years after acquiring his supposed franchise point guard?

When Reggie Jackson returned to the Detroit Pistons lineup, many expected him to provide a significant offensive boost to a Pistons team that boasted a top-five defensive rating, but languished near the bottom 10 in league-wide offensive rating. After a rough nine game stretch to start his season, Jackson went on a tear, averaging 19.6 points, 5.8 assists and 3 rebounds a game with a highly efficient 46/45/84 shooting line in January.

The Pistons struggled mightily with Jackson on the floor, (Jackson’s net ON/OFF is a dreadful -11.6 on the season) but despite rocky team results, he seemed to be on his way to a career year. Even with his noticeable defensive shortcomings, there was a sense that the team might just need time to gel with their new/old point guard after playing 21 games with Ish Smith at the helm.

Following a fourth quarter collapse to the Miami Heat on January 28th however, the wheels have completely fallen off. The Pistons flopped as a unit, only managing to score 12 points in the final 12 minutes of play, but Jackson was a visible catalyst for many of those struggles down the stretch. In the ten games since then, his play has completely fallen off a cliff. Over that stretch, Jackson is averaging 10 points, 5.7 assists and 1.5 rebounds a game, while shooting 37 percent from the floor and 27 percent from three. Making matters more complicated, backup Ish Smith has been stellar, providing 10.5 points, 4.4 assists and 3 rebounds a game, with a sizzling 61/38/67 shooting line.

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What’s emerged is a timeshare at the position with Jackson, the ostensible starter, receiving 55 percent of the playing time, a full ten percent lower than his workload last season. To his credit, head coach Stan Van Gundy hasn’t hesitated to give Ish Smith a fair shot to handle to offense while the Pistons fight for a playoff spot (Smith played 19 straight second half minutes and the entire fourth quarter over Jackson in a close win over the Toronto Raptors on February 12th). However, the timing of both players’ fortunes, coupled with the 11-10 record Smith compiled while starting in Jackson’s absence requires legitimately questioning Reggie Jackson’s struggles and whether they can be fixed. Ultimately, what his future in Detroit might be may lie in the answers to these questions.

What’s wrong with Reggie?

The answer for Jackson’s struggles isn’t clear but the results are, and they paint an ugly picture that should be cause for serious concern among both Pistons fans and the front office.

Reggie Jackson isn’t just missing shots, he’s become an entirely different kind of scorer this season. This is fairly obvious from just looking at the differences in his shot chart from last year to this year. This is Jackson’s shot chart from the 2015-16 season-

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The following is his shot chart for the 2016-17 season.

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These charts are drastically different from one another, and extremely concerning from a statistical perspective. Jackson is getting his shots this season in a completely different manner than last year, almost everything is in front of the defense, almost nothing is at the rim.  45.4 percent of Jackson’s field goal attempts came within ten feet of the rim last season. This year only 38.6 percent of attempts come within ten feet, and his shooting percentage on such attempts is down from a respectable 50.1 percent to 46.2 percent. Even his threes are further beyond the line than before.

Jackson’s shots are coming from further back in part because his drives are down noticeably, from 10.6 a game to 7.4. He’s simply not getting to the rim, and when he does he’s an active detriment to the Pistons. Jackson took 5.1 shots per game within five feet of the rim last year, shooting a respectable 53 percent on those shots. He’s down to 3.6 such attempts this season and he’s shooting a pitiful 48 percent, the third-worst mark in the league among guards with at least three shots within five feet per game. Only 20-year-old Emmanuel Mudiay of the Denver Nuggets and 21-year-old Isaiah Whitehead of the Brooklyn Nets rank lower.

It’s only gotten worse since the Miami game, as Jackson is shooting a ghastly 44 percent on 2.7 attempts per game within five feet of the rim over the past ten contests. Even during an effective, efficient performance against the Dallas Mavericks, Jackson only attempted seven drives and took four shots inside of ten feet. This would seem to indicate that he didn’t actually solve any of his interior issues in that game, he simply had a good shooting night.

Jackson and Drummond

While Jackson’s utterly awful play near the rim has been a major detriment to his own offense this year, it also has a direct effect on center Andre Drummond‘s offensive game. Drummond’s putbacks are down by an attempt per game this season, he’s scoring 1.2 points less per game on putbacks and he’s gone from a somewhat respectable 55th percentile last year to the 44th percentile this season.

In two-man lineups with Jackson and Drummond, the Pistons offensive rebounding percentage is down from 28.3 percent last year to 24.1 percent this season. The only starter who Drummond has a bigger offensive rebounding drop off with this season is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, for reasons I’ve already broken down in my assessment of the Pistons pull-up heavy offense. Drummond’s getting less clean offensive boards this season with Reggie and KCP on the floor and he’s not able to capitalize on them as he was previously able to.

One might claim that the reason for these drops is that the Pistons aren’t using the Jackson/Drummond pick and roll like they did last season. But despite his complaints to Zach Lowe, Jackson is actually using the play 1.7 percent more than he did last season, and Detroit runs the pick and roll ten percent more often this year overall. He and Drummond are still very effective at it by the way, they both rank in the 70th percentile in the pick and roll this season, although Jackson is down from 77th percentile in 2015-16.

The issue isn’t the frequency or efficiency of the pick and roll in the Pistons offense, the issue is Jackson’s newfound limitations going to the rim.

Crunch-time killer (of his own team)

Lastly, it’s impossible to discuss how Reggie Jackson’s production and style of play has changed from the 2015-16 season to the 2016-17 season without mentioning his performance in the clutch.

Jackson was arguably the best clutch player in the entire NBA last season, (“clutch” is defined by the NBA as the during the last five minutes of a game with the score within five points) leading the league with 4.8 points per game while shooting 46 percent from three and 90 percent from the line. The Pistons finished with a 24-13 record in those games, with Jackson accounting for as many points per game in the clutch as the rest of the starting lineup combined and a net rating of 15.8, highest among Pistons starters. Jackson’s production was not just prolific, it was absolutely critical to the Pistons making the playoffs.

How quickly things change. In 47 total minutes over 12 games of crunch-time action this season, Jackson is averaging 2.5 points with an almost incomprehensible 29/14/75 shooting line and an astounding net rating of -30.3. Jackson’s clutch numbers haven’t just fallen off a cliff, they’ve gone skydiving with cement shoes and no parachute.

These are all massive issues for both Reggie Jackson and the Pistons. There’s no real way of getting around it, he’s not the same player he was last year, nor does he seem physically able to be that player, which should be a major red flag for Detroit.

The next move

Some might argue that trading Jackson right now isn’t a good strategy, as his value is the lowest it’s been in his career to this point and any return would likely be considered highly disappointing after his play last year. I’d like to offer another perspective. Just because this is the lowest Jackson’s value has been to this point, doesn’t mean it’s the lowest it can possibly get.

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Jackson isn’t just struggling from one or two places on the floor, he’s become totally incapable of being a threat at the rim. That’s not really a viable option for a team with Andre Drummond as its max player. While Jackson’s midrange shooting has improved, his ability to get into the paint and get to the rim, by far his greatest strengths from last year, are now deadly weaknesses in his game. If his struggles continue in the manner they have, getting even a tremendously flawed player like Elfrid Payton or Ricky Rubio in a trade could be the best case scenario.

Marc Stein’s report on Friday that the Pistons are discussing a move with the Orlando Magic where they would send Jackson for D.J. Augustin and Jeff Green‘s expiring contract has been met with scorn by many Pistons fans (and not just because Detroit would presumably also have to send Orlando Stanley Johnson in order to make salaries work).

But Van Gundy and the Pistons have one of the most elaborate scouting departments in the league and a firm commitment to using advanced statistics. If they have already reached the conclusion that Jackson cannot return to his previous form, they’ll clearly have no hesitation in turning to Ish Smith. This leaves Jackson’s near future in Detroit on rocky terms.

Next: SVG not worried about Reggie Jackson

Moving a star player is a difficult decision for any team to make, even more so when the return doesn’t appear equal on paper, but the Pistons need to make a decision soon. Time will tell what they choose, but with the trade deadline looming, fans of the team won’t have to wait long to find out the answer.