Reggie Jackson was a different player after being traded to the Detroit Pistons from the Oklahoma City Thunder in February. His last few months with the Thunder were difficult on the court and in the locker room, but Jackson's productivity exploded with the change of scenery and with a team that gave him the keys to drive the car—something he had been seeking.
After the trade, he told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, "I've always dreamed about this, and I was never sure it would happen. Stan [Van Gundy] believes in me, in the leader that I can be. He believes in the player that I can be, and I've always imagined having a coach like this, an opportunity like this, in the NBA."
Now, with a new five-year, $80 million contract in hand, Jackson is ready to take his game and his new team to the next level.
Detroit's head coach and team president Stan Van Gundy knew the deal for Jackson was a roll of the dice.
After the trade, NBA.com's Keith Langlois reported Van Gundy saying, "We knew as far as for this year that it was a gamble. Just because of continuity, we would've been better off not making moves. We knew that. We thought we could make those moves and still stay right in the playoff race, and we were willing to take that gamble because of what we thought it did for the future."
Van Gundy appears happy with that gamble after Jackson's strong play and subsequent re-signing, telling the Associated Press, "It was a big day for us last year when we made the trade for Reggie, but now to get him locked up for the long term is even bigger for us. We look at Reggie as a big part of our foundation that we're trying to build here."
Jackson made the case for himself as Detroit's point guard of the future with 27 impressive games to finish the season. It was a small chunk of the NBA calendar, and the team had mostly fallen out of the playoff race, so it would have been easy to miss how good he was as a Piston. Comparing a few of his numbers compiled by Basketball-Reference.com, we can see Jackson's huge jump in production after the trade.
As a Piston, Jackson scored more and created far more opportunities for his teammates than he did in Oklahoma City. Coincidentally, this was also his first opportunity to really play point guard full-time for a team that was willing to give him the role. With the Thunder, he was often a secondary ball-handler and creator, sharing the floor with two high-usage stars in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
The enormous increase in Jackson's usage rate doesn't tell the whole story about how big his role was in Detroit's offense, though.
Traditional usage rate, the one we're looking at here, counts only scoring opportunities and turnovers as possessions used. We can see from his assist totals that Jackson was using a lot more possessions in that manner, but he was also passing the ball a lot more.
To get a more detailed look at the real scope of Jackson's offensive load in Detroit, we turn to Seth Partnow's "True Usage." This metric blends traditional usage with assist opportunities, returning the percentage of a team's possessions a player is involved in by shooting, passing to a teammate in scoring position or turning it over.
|Team||True Usage||Shot Usage||Assist Usage||True TO%|
When he was on the floor, nearly two-thirds of the Pistons' possessions directly involved Jackson. His 60.8 percent True Usage with Detroit was the second-highest in the league last season, trailing only his former teammate Westbrook. That number can not be overstated—he and Westbrook were the only players in the league with True Usages above 60 percent. LeBron James' gargantuan playoff load topped out at 61.6 percent.
You can see that Jackson was much more involved in Detroit as both a shooter and a passer than he was in Oklahoma City. Also, if we take into account his usage, the turnover increase isn't nearly as troubling. Altogether, the team's offense was 10.8 points better per 100 possessions with Jackson on the floor, per NBA.com.
As the primary ball-handler in Detroit, Jackson spent a lot more time running pick-and-rolls, a set he was incredibly effective out of. It should be a staple of what he does for the Pistons going forward. According to Synergy Sports, after he joined the Pistons, he was the most productive scorer and passer in the league out of the pick-and-roll.
Points Created via Pass
|1||Reggie Jackson (DET)||10.7||1||Reggie Jackson (DET)||12.7|
|2||Chris Paul||8.4||2||Chris Paul||12.4|
|3||Ty Lawson||8.3||3||Ty Lawson||11.7|
|4||Russell Westbrook||8.1||4||John Wall||10.8|
Plenty of those pick-and-roll opportunities ended with drives to the basket. According to NBA.com, Jackson averaged 8.3 drives per 36 minutes with the Thunder, producing 1.18 points per drive for his team (including both points scored and points generated by assist). After moving to Detroit, those numbers jumped to 14.5 drives per 36 minutes and 1.20 points per drive.
He essentially doubled the frequency with which he attacked the basket with no drop-off in efficiency.
All of those numbers speak to how good Jackson was last season, and there's every reason to think he can improve this year. First, we're talking about a 27-game look in Detroit, large enough to assuage concerns of small samples.
Most importantly, Jackson should have a lot more shooting and overall talent around him this season. Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated talked about how frontcourt changes could help open the floor around Jackson in the pick-and-roll:
Van Gundy has sought to increase the spacing in Detroit's offense, by parting with Josh Smith and Monroe, and Jackson's strength in the two-man game will set up the collapse-and-kick opportunities that keep spread teams in business. Detroit's offensive efficiency was three points better under Jackson than Jennings, and he projects long-term as the more reliable starting option.
Detroit had just six players on its roster last season who shot better than 35 percent on three-pointers, but because of injuries and trades, Jackson played with only three of them—Anthony Tolliver, Tayshaun Prince and Caron Butler.
Tolliver and Jodie Meeks (who shot 34.9 percent from three) are back, and the Pistons have also added Marcus Morris, Ersan Ilyasova, Danny Granger and Steve Blake, all of whom shot better than 35 percent on three-pointers last season. First-round draft pick Stanley Johnson shot better than 37 percent on three-pointers at the University of Arizona and looked comfortable with the NBA three-point line at the Orlando Summer League, knocking down five of 12.
That the Pistons added so much shooting bodes well for Jackson's play, but the fact that so much of that shooting is coming in the frontcourt is important.
Nearly a third of his minutes with Detroit last season were played with both Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe on the court. Both are good players who offer a lot, but neither is a shooter, and the team's spacing was terrible when they played together. It's not surprising that Jackson's true shooting percentage was just 42 percent when he played with that frontcourt pairing.
Monroe is now a Milwaukee Buck. While that takes some talent off the table, his departure and the addition of frontcourt shooters may be a better fit. At the very least, it should be better for Jackson.
This season, Jackson's frontcourt partners are usually going to be Drummond and a shooter such as Ilyasova, Tolliver or Morris. In the 409 minutes Jackson played with Drummond and without Monroe last season, his true shooting percentage was a robust 56.5 percent, per NBAwowy.com.
Better spacing is going to allow Jackson to make the most of his offensive skill set.
Jackson is by no means a finished product, and he has plenty to work on before we can have that conversation. His defensive effort and execution are inconsistent, and he's just a 29.4 percent career three-point shooter. But he's already demonstrated that he's a top-tier facilitator and off-the-dribble shot-creator capable of carrying the load for an overall efficient offense.
As Van Gundy continues to build this talented roster around Jackson, things should get better and better. Jackson has an $80 million reminder that the Pistons trust him and believe in his talents—the kind of support he's long craved. Up next is reminding the rest of the league just how good he really is.