Pistons Film Breakdown: Reggie Jackson’s transition issues

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

Plenty has been made of Reggie Jackson’s issues last season for the Detroit Pistons, but it’s time to focus on the worst so we can plan for the best.

It’s been beaten to death, but Reggie Jackson had a bad season for the Detroit Pistons last year. While that is undoubtedly the truth, it’s also become a catch-all excuse to explain why the team struggled last year. We can keep pounding that drum, confident that Jackson was just bad and that if he’s good this year all will be well.

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Perhaps it’ll be that simple. Maybe Reggie Jackson will return to the form of two years ago and the Detroit Pistons will be fun to watch and competitive again. We can hope, but it probably won’t be that simple.

In order to set our expectations for the coming season, we need to figure out just what Jackson struggled the most at last year and evaluate the likelihood that a physical improvement or schematic change or adaptation in his own game can make a difference. Jackson’s defense a year ago was a step worse than dreadful, and we’re going to have to hope his physical ability rebounds enough to defend at the NBA level, but there’s a particular glaring element that brings great concern.

To set up the grimness of this aspect of his game a year ago, we need to ask a question in order to find some context.

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Given the choice, would you rather have an Andre Drummond two-shot trip to the free throw line or a Reggie Jackson transition opportunity from last season?

Most of you will probably select the Jackson transition opportunity (unless you detect that this is a trick question or you’re some kind of contrarian). After all, Drummond is the worst free throw shooter in NBA history and hit just 38.6 percent from the free throw line, and transition offense is by far the most efficient way to score. Surely Jackson in transition is worth more than the .772 points per possession Drummond’s woeful free throw percentage yields, right?


Reggie Jackson’s transition offense produced a woeful .769 point per possession, making it slightly better than a Drummond post up (.764 points per possession) and slightly worse than a Drummond free throw trip. He’s in the 7th percentile among transition finishers and only three players with over 100 transition opportunities had worse production last season.

So how in the world can the supposedly easiest way to score in basketball be such a struggle for Jackson? There are a couple of answers we can fall back on here. The first one is a noticeable lack of explosion. It makes it easier for opposing guards to stay in front of him while backpedaling in transition defense, and he predictably goes to the rim with blinders on  once he makes his decision. This allows help defenders to prey upon him once he gets close to the rim, if he even gets there.

This checks out as he had a field goal percentage of 40.8 in transition. That places him 124th out of 131 players who had 100 opportunities. Much of Jackson’s inefficient finishing around the rim on the season can be specifically attributed to his struggles in transition, as he hit more than 10 percent worse around the rim than league average.

Another dramatic issue is his turnover rate. Once again, he ranks among the worst in the league in this category. His 23.1 percent turnover rate is 126th out of those 131 players and many come in the form of long down-court passes delivered to hopeless spots, as you see below.

The Detroit Pistons didn’t get out in transition with Jackson on the floor nearly as much as they did with Ish Smith last season. That drove some fans and observers crazy, but with a look at how troubling Jackson’s fast break performance was, slowing the pace and playing in the half court more may have been the lesser of two evils for this team last year.

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If Jackson is able to get the spring back in his step thanks to his rigorous rehab this summer, these may be ills that have a cure. Two years ago he had respectable transition numbers, scoring a much more reasonable .976 points per possession.