Why the Pistons should rest Reggie Jackson on back-to-backs

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 08: Reggie Jackson
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 08: Reggie Jackson /

Perhaps the biggest issue the Detroit Pistons faced last year stemmed from their performances in back-to-backs. Resting Reggie Jackson could be a solution.

The Detroit Pistons had a disappointing 2016-17 season, particularly late in the campaign as they melted down after the All-Star break. There may have been no more indicative issue last season than the troubles they had on the second game of back-to-backs, hereafter referred to as SEGABABA.

The Pistons had just three wins in 17 SEGABABA scenarios and had the worst net rating in the NBA in those games by almost two points, being outscored by a stunning 9.8 points per 100 possessions. For context, the worst overall net rating in the league last season belonged to the Los Angeles Lakers, who were outscored by 7.2 points per 100 possessions.

The Pistons went 37-45 and missed the playoffs by four games, but if they had simply gone .500 (not out of the realm of possibility, they went 12-8 in SEGABABA in 2015-16 with a +.9 net rating), plus or minus one game, going 8-9 or 9-8, the additional five or six wins would have placed them on equal footing with either the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks at 43-39 or joined the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks in a tie for sixth with a 42-40 record.

The most remarkable drop-off in SEGABABA performance relative to the rest of the season came in the form of Reggie Jackson. Some great work from Lazarus Jackson on Twitter provided the following:

Jackson was an unmitigated disaster in SEGABABA, averaging 10.6 points and 4.8 rebounds on 35 percent from the floor and 26 percent from three-point range. He had an incredible -17.4 net rating in those games and a 41.4 percent true shooting rate.

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In all games that were not SEGABABA, however, Jackson was not so drastically diminished from his performance of 2015-16 in which he nearly made the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Per Lazarus Jackson once again, Reggie Jackson averaged 15.2 points and 5.3 assists, hitting 43 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point range.

While Jackson had a +/- of -9 in those SEGABABA games, his differential was just -3.4 in all other games. Of course, that -3.4 isn’t a good rate, but it’s a far cry from being the NBA’s worst SEGABABA by a huge margin, and for a Reggie Jackson who was greatly diminished a season ago, we can consider that something to work with.

So, the Pistons were bad in SEGABABA. Reggie Jackson was even worse. What can we take away from this as we go into the coming season?

Jackson’s rehab from the knee tendinitis that diminished him last season has been heavy on rest, and because that’s a chronic condition, rest is always going to have to be a factor for him. So if the Pistons plan to keep a handle on his playing time during the season, they have two routes they can go.

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First, they can control his minutes. He’s not a point guard who plays heavy minutes, however, and 30 minutes per game is probably his ceiling on a consistent basis even when he’s healthy. He has asthma and has well-documented conditioning and stamina issues. While this could be an indicator he’s better suited coming off the bench for 20-24 minutes as a hyper-energetic sixth man, that’s not likely to happen with Jackson in Detroit.

Controlling his minutes beyond the 27 he averaged per game last season could be problematic for a starting point guard. The Pistons could trim two or three minutes per game off his average or go back to the six-on six-off timeshare they ran late in the season between Jackson and Ish Smith.

The problem with this is that two or three minutes per game may not help much in the long run. After a season in which he got shut down after playing only 52 games with a low minute load, he may wear out long before the season ends, let alone the playoffs (hopefully).

The second (and better) solution is to rest Reggie Jackson on SEGABABA. All of them. The Pistons played 17 such games last year, and teams tend to range between 12 and 20 of them each season. While Jackson performed well in these games two seasons ago, this might be a new paradigm for him and the Pistons and this line should be walked delicately. Expecting him to ever return to full strength is likely foolhardy, and surely not something that should be counted on or forced.

The Pistons are better equipped to handle regular absences from Jackson than they were a season ago. While Ish Smith and Beno Udrih were the only real facilitators on the roster behind Jackson, this season they’ve added capable ball handlers who can run offense in the form of Avery Bradley and Langston Galloway. Even rookie Luke Kennard may be an upgrade on some of the options the Pistons had last season at the point.

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Galloway’s signing was considered to be a form of insurance against Jackson failing to regain his form, but his use can be preemptive as well. Starting Ish Smith and bringing Galloway off the bench as backup point guard is an immediate upgrade on what the Pistons had last season, and it gives the Pistons flexibility if they decide this is the way they want to go about resting Reggie Jackson.