The Detroit Pistons' near-perfect offseason, one that inched the long-suffering franchise closer to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, just became a little less perfect.
According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Detroit News' Rod Beard, star point guard Reggie Jackson may be out of the lineup for a significant period of time, possibly 6-8 weeks according to Beard:
Detroit spent much of the summer trying to acquire depth at multiple positions, but it couldn't possibly have prepared for this. Signing Ish Smith as the backup floor general was a strong move after the 28-year-old's breakout performance for the Philadelphia 76ers, but he's not capable of filling in for Jackson over an extended period.
That's not even the biggest initial concern.
"More troubling for the Pistons is what happens when Smith rests," Dan Feldman wrote for Pro Basketball Talk. "As large as the drop is from Jackson to Smith, it's even larger from Smith to Lorenzo Brown or Ray McCallum—who are competing for the 15th regular-season roster spot and third point guard duties."
Take a peek at the massive difference in class between Jackson and all the other internal options, leaning on NBA Math's total points added breakdown from the 2015-16 campaign:
Brown and McCallum would've provided less value than Smith had they played similar minutes and not operated almost solely in garbage-time scenarios. Neither young player is ready to serve as a primary backup.
Smith won't replicate the efforts of Jackson, who last season made a convincing case for All-Star consideration, averaging 18.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists while shooting 43.4 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from beyond the arc. The talented Boston College product was the spark that made Detroit's offense work. It shouldn't be surprising that the Pistons scored an additional 6.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
The offense is built around his individual talent, since everyone else functions best in off-ball scenarios. Impressive as Andre Drummond may be, he's not a skilled post-up scorer or distributor and still relies on passes or offensive rebounds for many of his contributions. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris, among others, aren't suited for creating roles.
Smith can make their jobs easier with his knack for facilitating, but his inability to knock down triples and score efficiently puts a severe damper on what this offense can muster.
Smith can also penetrate with the best of them, but he's not the same caliber of finisher as Jackson. According to NBA.com's SportVU data, Jackson embarked upon 10.6 drives per game—the sixth-most in the Association, behind only Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan, Smith and Jeff Teague. Yes, you read that correctly: Smith is among the leading sextet.
But it's what Jackson did on those drives that makes him so much more valuable to the offensive schemes. Detroit needs a scoring threat, and that's exactly what he was:
|Different Drivers: Smith and Jackson's 2015-16 Stats on Drives|
|Player||FG%||FTA per Game||Points per Game||Points Percentage|
|NBA.com's SportVU Data|
Whereas Jackson scored on 70 percent of his bursts to the hoop, Smith put up points less than half the time. Instead, he passed the rock on 45.6 percent of his drives; Jackson did so on just 27.3 percent of the relevant possessions.
These are fundamentally different players, and the offense will likely struggle to adjust to the replacement floor general, even if he continues to drive just as frequently. The sooner Jackson is back, the sooner Detroit can begin functioning as a threat for home-court advantage, not just as a lottery-bound squad.
As of yet, we don't have a timetable for Jackson's return, which is presumably why Stein's original report indicated the Pistons will be looking for help on the point guard market.
But what help is realistically out there?
Looking Outside the Organization
The remaining free agents are remarkably limited. Detroit would be left picking between declining veterans such as Kirk Hinrich, Steve Blake and Nate Robinson or hoping Mario Chalmers could recover from the Achilles injury that ended his promising but brief run with the Memphis Grizzlies.
The other option is looking to the trade market, but teams are seldom willing to give up high-quality point guards.
Perhaps the Utah Jazz would be amenable to parting with Shelvin Mack now that they've acquired George Hill and added a healthy Dante Exum back into the fold. Maybe the Boston Celtics could be persuaded to deal Demetrius Jackson or Terry Rozier, given all their depth at the 1. There's a chance the Dallas Mavericks could trade Devin Harris.
Detroit could even swing for the fences and attempt to pry either Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight away from the Phoenix Suns.
But venturing into the world of trades requires sacrifices, and that's where everything gets tricky for general manager/head coach Stan Van Gundy.
This offseason was about building depth, which the Pistons did quite well by acquiring Smith, Jon Leuer, Henry Ellenson and Boban Marjanovic. Trading away a backup (or starter) at another position isn't feasible, nor would it make for a tempting enough offer when seeking a difference-making point guard.
Unless Detroit is willing to include a future draft pick, it might be stuck panning the free-agent pool for hidden gold.
In all likelihood, the Pistons will hold course and make a nondescript veteran signing, then try to survive until Jackson is back on the floor. If he misses months rather than weeks, it could be an uphill battle just to make the playoffs in an improving Eastern Conference.
He's that important to this offense.
When they're not working the phones and trying desperately to swipe someone away from an unsuspecting organization, everyone in the Detroit front office should be crossing fingers and hoping for a speedy recovery.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @fromal09.