Clinging on to the eight seed in the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Pistons have underperformed and rattled to a record that places them four games below .500 at the All-Star break, with a record of 26-30. For a team with Blake Griffin, who established hosting a playoff series as a goal for the Pistons this year, Andre Drummond, and the reigning Coach of the Year, Dwane Casey, the expectations placed for the Pistons were rightfully high.
Yet in the middle of February, the best case outlook for the team appears to be having the opportunity to fight for the sixth seed. They will more likely end up as the seventh or eighth seed if they are able to secure a playoff spot. But the team is headed in the right direction. The Pistons are 6-4 in their last 10 games with a plus-4.0 net rating. Detroit’s improved play as of late isn’t just random. The Pistons traded for Thon Maker and Svi Mykhailiuk at the trade deadline, signed Wayne Ellington from the buyout market, and the key cogs on their roster are playing better.
The biggest improvement for the team has been the improved play of Reggie Jackson. The 28-year-old point guard spent the offseason unable to work out and play basketball, keeping him out of game shape and unable to build on-court chemistry with Griffin and the rest of his teammates.
Quickly into the new season, Jackson’s legs looked sluggish. In a new role that moved him off the ball more than ever before since his move to Motown, his overall game took a hit and Detroit cooled off after a hot start to the season. Once Jackson began to look tired, the Pistons immediately started to crumble.
Not by coincidence, their worst two months of the season, December and January, were Jackson’s worst two months of the year. Detroit went a combined 10-21 in the two months. Jackson was a minus-4.0 in December, and in January he averaged less than 13 points and four assists per game.
Detroit toggled with the idea of trading Jackson, and actively pursued Mike Conley, Dennis Smith Jr., Markelle Fultz, and other point guards that were on the market before the trade deadline came on February 8th. Instead, they held on to Jackson, as they were unwilling to part with the assets wanted by opposing teams for their floor generals.
But towards the end of January, Jackson began to look like a different player. He was moving quicker, with a greater spring to his jumps. His legs look refreshed and his play skyrocketed. Dwane Casey made an executive decision to integrate more pick-and-rolls in Detroit’s offense, the play-style that, initiated by Reggie Jackson, dragged the Pistons to the playoffs in the 2016-2017 season. The results have yielded an exceptional return for Detroit.
Over his last 10 games, Jackson has averaged 18.7 points on 49.3 percent shooting from the field and 48.4 percent from the 3-point line. The scoring boost has been huge for Detroit, and his efficiency has been remarkable compared to his shooting numbers from prior to this stretch. On the season, he has shot just 41.1 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from three. He’s also dishing out 5.9 assists on just 1.7 turnovers per game. He’s been moving the ball as efficiently as he has been scoring it. Overall, he is a plus-10.7 over his last 10 games, by far the best on the team.
In the clip below, Jackson displays how dangerous he is in the pick-and-roll. In the first play, he drags Dennis Smith Jr. and DeAndre Jordan baseline as Andre Drummond rolls to the rim through the middle of the paint. Jackson holds onto the ball long enough that both defenders lock onto him, which allows him to then lob the ball to Drummond who is open for the dunk.
In the second clip, later on in the game, he uses a Drummond screen to generate enough open space to get off one of his patented floaters. Because Jordan is aware of a rolling Drummond, he cannot commit to Jackson, which allows him enough space to get up the shot while Smith watches from behind after getting lost on the screen from Drummond.
In a role that places him off the ball more, Jackson has been asked to shoot more 3-pointers than ever in spot-up situations. He has become more efficient in this area throughout the season and has become one of Blake Griffin’s primary kickout targets for these shot opportunities.
Jackson’s success with his two counterparts of Detroit’s “big three” as of late has been stunning. He is involved in all three of Detroit’s best two-man lineups over the stretch of games. He and Drummond have been a plus-10.6, while the Jackson and Griffin combination is not far behind with a plus-10.3 rating. In between those two combinations lies Jackson and Wayne Ellington, who are a plus-10.5. It is clear that the Pistons have been much better with Jackson on the court lately, a statement that would not have been applicable over the last few months.
This is indicative of Detroit’s past seasons as well. When Jackson has been healthy, Detroit has won more games. When he has been hurt or out of shape, the team’s performance has spiraled downwards.
The Pistons will need this version of Jackson to stick around. With his struggles through the majority of the first half of the season, there is reason to be cautious he can maintain this level of play. But Detroit will have to do just that. Dwane Casey has restricted the offense to suit Jackson best, and in turn, Drummond has looked better as well.
Detroit is playing better as of late and will have the opportunity to continue their rise in the second half of the season. According to Tankathon, the Pistons have the sixth-easiest schedule left in the NBA. They’ll face the Bulls twice, the Cavaliers twice, and the Knicks and Suns once more as well. They will continue to rely heavily on Blake Griffin, who has had a season dominant enough to earn him his sixth All-Star appearance, but Jackson’s surge has given Detroit a brighter outlook.
This is the Reggie Jackson that Stan Van Gundy envisioned when he signed him to an $80 million contract extension in 2015, and the success that has come along with this version of Jackson is parallel with that vision.
The Pistons are finally playing at the level of the expectations they placed on themselves before the season began. With the past two seasons wasted because of injuries, Detroit is on the cusp of returning to the playoffs behind a fanbase desperate for their success.