It is officially time to start previewing the upcoming season! This is the first preview, and we will be getting through the entire roster by the time the season starts.
About Last Year
Reggie Jackson was miserable last year, everyone can agree on this. He had occasional moments of good offense, but even when he had those moments, he was so bad on defense that he was almost always a net negative on the court and the numbers back up the eye test. His base stats of 14.5 points, 5.2 assists, and 2.2 rebounds in 27 minutes per game do not do justice to how much he struggled. Regardless of excuses that can be made for it, Jackson had a disastrous year in every area of the game.
Where He Stands Now
Jackson is entering the third year of a five-year $80 million contract and will make $16 million this year. The Pistons have held firm that he was hurt last year and that they have full confidence in him going forward and they have put their money where their mouth is. Until there is information to the contrary, Jackson is assumed to be the starting point guard heading into the year. He is 27 and will be for most of the season.
Look for Jackson to get back to his normal self with the ball in his hands this season. The combination of being hurt and terrible shooting around him destroyed his ability to get into the lane with consistency last year, and it hamstrung his entire offensive game. It is not entirely clear how much the Pistons will lean on the Jackson/Andre Drummond pick and roll this year, as Stan Van Gundy has continued to state that he wants a more diversified offensive attack, but with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris out of town and being replaced by less ball dominant players, Jackson should still see plenty of ball-handling duties, even if it is not quite as pick and roll heavy.
Provided he is, in fact, healthy, then expect Jackson to be the driving force behind the offense. Snaking into the paint to bend the defense to his liking while he hunts for those goofy floaters and hooks, lobs to Andre, and open shooters. If he is regularly doing that out of the gate, then it will not take long for faith in him to be restored.
One thing that will be interesting to watch this year is how he shoots the ball, as the one positive from the last season is that he shot the ball well from deep and the midrange, which has been a major issue for him before in his career. His three-point percentage of 36 percent isn't eye-popping, but given the high number of them that are off the dribble types that are very difficult, he isn't ever going to be Steph Curry or Damian Lillard. If he keeps building on those shots, he can become a real threat in those situations. Beyond just the three-point shooting, he shot 44 percent on long twos last year, which was by far a career high, it is possible that it was just an outlier season for him. If he can continue that pace, then it will be harder for defenses to go under every screen set for him as they did in the past. If he can manage to combine the better shooting of last year, with the explosive paint attacking of the rest of his career then he could actually come out of this a more complete player than he was before.
Reggie Jackson just must improve his defense. Even when he was healthy he was generally miserable on defense outside of the occasional bursts of effort at the end of games. It is understandable that he tries to conserve some energy on defense given his offensive load, but he, at the very least, must play more disciplined and heads-up defense. He has long enough arms that he should be able to get more steals simply by keeping them up and in the passing lanes. The good news is that the Pistons managed to replace KCP with one of the few players in the league who is a defensive upgrade, which will allow Jackson to play on less threatening players more often and his size is a benefit as he can tangle with a lot of wing players better than most point guards can. Essentially, I'm not asking him to become an elite defender (although he has the right tools to do that), he just needs to keep his head on a swivel and not make bad mistakes most of the game so he can at least come out as a net neutral defender and then he can turn up in critical moments to become a good defender.
Jackson had questions about his personality and character before last year, and then his bad play accentuated it. It is not clear exactly how large a rift opened between players last year or what exactly the rift was about, but it is fair to say that Jackson was more or less at the center of it. This season is a make or break year in a lot of ways for Jackson, and it is no different in this regard. If locker room issues continue to be present, then it would adversely hurt confidence in Jackson as a franchise point guard. If those issues are not present then, it will go a long way towards rebuilding that confidence.
Best Case Scenario
Jackson returns healthy, with a chip on his shoulder, and having learned to become a more complete player following a season where his health problems put a magnifying glass on his shortcomings as a player and a person. He is the same relentless attacker of the paint, a killer in the clutch that he was before, but now is a much-improved shooter while also being a more willing passer and with letting others get theirs along with an increased defensive focus on his way to being an all-star caliber player.
Worst Case Scenario
Jackson never gets healthy, he can't penetrate defenses or use his athleticism to make up for defensive laziness and is too stubborn to accept that he can't do things like he used to and as a result he drags down the team until they bench and dump him, likely resulting in the death of the current team and possibly the front office as well.
So in conclusion:
Wink Knowingly At Your Friends If
- Jackson is knifing into the paint at will and looks like his past athletic self.
- He is nailing jumpers from any distance when teams duck under screens until teams start having to respect his jumper.
- There is a noticeable improvement in defensive intensity and focus.
- The Pistons are lea by Jackson to being the league leader in high fives per 36.
Run For The Hills If
- He isn't getting into the paint/ looks slow and not right.
- He falls back into old habits of too much ball dominance despite an improved roster around him.
- He suffers some sort of non-knee related injury that delays the Pistons' ability to decide if he can get back to his former form.
Opportunities For Me To Look Stupid
- Jackson averages seven assists per game.
- His defense gets back to the same mediocrity of before last year, but he doesn't make any meaningful improvement beyond that.
- Jackson continues to build on his improved shooting, and there are occasional mentions of his pull-up jumper becoming a real weapon.
What do you think? Will he be healthy? Can he learn from the season from hell?