Why Reggie Jackson is the key to the Pistons’ success

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 30: Reggie Jackson
AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 30: Reggie Jackson /

Amidst a whirlwind of trade rumors over the past several months, Reggie Jackson remains with the Detroit Pistons. The 27-year-old point guard has been erratic throughout his tenure in the Motor City. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, along with occasional ineptitude. Jackson isn’t perfect. But he’s the most important Piston heading into the 2017-18 season.

Reggie Jackson isn’t the best player on the Detroit Pistons. That would be Andre Drummond or Avery Bradley. He isn’t the most consistent player either. That’s Tobias Harris.

But Jackson is the most important.

In a league where the last three MVP winners were point guards, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The primary ball handler is the most crucial position in the NBA today.

Detroit may have more talent at the other four spots on the floor.  But sometimes, a team’s best player isn’t the most essential. Drummond played 81 games last season. Harris played all 82. Yet something was obviously missing.

The 30-game absence of Jackson was too much for the Pistons to bear. Ish Smith exceeded expectations when he filled in as the starting point guard. However, he lacked the scoring versatility that propelled Jackson and the Pistons to the playoffs in 2016.

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Last season was an indication of just how much he means to this team. A point guard initiates just about every offensive set in the game of basketball. Take him away, and the whole system gets thrown out of whack.

The Pistons’ success begins and ends at Jackson. Here’s why.

Bread and butter

Stan Van Gundy teams are built on two principles: an efficient pick and roll combo to go with perimeter shooting. Detroit addressed their lack of outside scoring by bringing in three new shooting guards over the summer. I analyzed these acquisitions in a previous piece last month.

Now a pick and roll is little different. It may be the oldest trick in the book, but not every pick and roll tandem is created equal. The two players involved must have some sort of chemistry with each other. Once that relationship is built, it’s very difficult to defend.

Detroit had that kind of tandem two seasons ago. The clip below exemplifies just how effective the Jackson-Drummond pick and roll was in 2015-16.

Drummond would sprint to the top of key and set a solid ball screen for Jackson. Instead of just going through the motions (which he can be guilty of), he firmly planted his feet and waited to roll until Jackson rubbed off his left shoulder.

Once Jackson broke free, Andre immediately cut to the left block. Reggie penetrated just enough so that Brooklyn collapsed onto him with a double team. Brook Lopez was forced to sag off of Drummond to prevent a Jackson layup.

By the time Reggie picked us his dribble, Andre was wide open underneath the basket. Jackson then dumped it off to Drummond who finished with the easy jam.

Sound familiar? Well it should. Because the Pistons ran the exact same play over and over again that season. Opponents knew it was coming, and yet they couldn’t stop it. You’ll see some more examples of the Jackson-Drummond screen and roll in the video below.

Bradley by his side

Nobody was more excited about the addition of Avery Bradley than Reggie Jackson. Bradley might be known for his defense, but it’s his offensive game that will take some of the pressure off of Jackson.

Unlike Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bradley has the ability to create his own shot. In other words, he doesn’t have to rely on Jackson to set him up offensively. Reggie has carried that burden the last few seasons in Detroit.

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Caldwell-Pope was a respectable scorer. But unless a play was designed for him, he would mainly hang out on the wing and spot up for a jumper. That’s not a knock against him. After all, he’s a shooting guard.

But Caldwell-Pope’s inability to play the point meant that Jackson couldn’t defer to anyone. This left him as, well, ball-dominant. Reggie’s usage rate was the highest on the team last season at 26.4 percent. Caldwell-Pope’s was the 10th highest at 19.2 percent. That type of disparity between a starting back court isn’t ideal.

Bradley’s presence should help. The 26-year-old played point guard for the Celtics his first three seasons in the league. This should give Jackson a breath a fresh of air. He can play off the ball, and more importantly, Detroit can rotate their guards to attain the more favorable match up.

If anything, Jackson now has a more well-rounded scorer at his disposal. Bradley averaged a career-high 16.3 points per game last year. Remember, he played alongside another ball-dominant guard in Isaiah Thomas. He should have no problem adjusting to Reggie’s tendencies.

It starts at the top

Again, Reggie Jackson is not the best player on the Detroit Pistons. Heck, he could be dealt come February. You never know with Van Gundy.

But until that happens (if it ever does) he remains the most important piece to this puzzle. He’s the guy that makes everything go. We saw what he was capable of two years ago, and that roster was not as talented as the one they have now.

It’s probably a make or break season for Jackson. But at this point, you can say that about anybody on this team – including the front office.

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The NBA is a point guard’s league nowadays. The Detroit Pistons will have to learn that the easy way, or they’ll have to learn that the hard way.

We’ll soon find out.