Beard: Spotting Jackson’s time is prudent
In a perfect situation, Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson would be the starter and play about 32 minutes, while backup Ish Smith would finish the remaining 16 minutes.
For Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, it’s been anything but a perfect situation, for the entirety of the season. After Jackson had tendinitis issues in both his left knee and right thumb and had plasma injections to ease the pain, things have been shaky.
Jackson hasn’t been himself and although Smith has had his ups and downs, he’s been steady for much of the season. That’s had many fans clamoring for Smith to assume the starting role, especially after Jackson’s number dipped precipitously in February: 10.1 points, 37 percent from the field and 29 percent beyond the arc on 12 games.
Van Gundy stoked a maelstrom after Friday’s practice, suggesting that he wasn’t sure who would start Saturday’s game at Philadelphia. He stuck with Jackson, who had 21 points in 25 minutes, as the Pistons took an easy 136-106 victory over the 76ers.
“You don’t know on a one-game thing if it helped at all,” Van Gundy said on Fox Sports Detroit. “Reggie played well and Ish played well. We’ll see going forward.”
Rather than make the switch in the lineup, Van Gundy maintained the status quo with Jackson, — which is the right call, for now and for the rest of the season.
That’s not just because Jackson had a good game. It’s more about the uncertain long-term future of the franchise at what could be its most critical position.
“Reggie was huge; Reggie Jackson is special and he makes us not good — he makes us great,” Smith said on Fox Sports Detroit, after posting 11 points, 13 assists and no turnovers in 23 minutes. “When we get that, not only are we good; we’re pretty dangerous and scary.”
Van Gundy decided to massage the minutes distribution, alternating Jackson and Smith in six-minute stints, with the option to play the better of the two in the final minutes of the game.
The message to Jackson is that he’s still a leader on the team but when Smith is playing better, he’ll get increased minutes. It’s also a signal that Van Gundy and the coaching staff haven’t given up on him. If they didn’t deal him at the trade deadline, they’re committed to him, even if it’s in a different role.
It’s a signal that Jackson can go out and expend as much energy as need on the defensive end and to push the pace on offense — two of Van Gundy’s biggest criticisms of Jackson — without feeling like he’ll have to play 32 minutes.
“We told (Reggie) he was going to go in shorter bursts, so don’t pace himself and to really push himself defensively and try to get the pace of the game up on offense,” Van Gundy said. “That’s all we talked about.”Sure, the Pistons have been less than perfect, but they still have plenty to play for in the last 20 games. The sixth seed still is within reach and with Miami and Milwaukee still trailing them for the No. 8 spot, nothing is guaranteed.
But sitting Jackson completely — yes, some are even clamoring for Beno Udrih to be the backup behind Smith — isn’t the right answer. If Jackson’s knee gets some strength from playing fewer minutes, he could be a bigger asset when the playoffs roll around.
Bulls at Pistons
Tip-off: 7:30 tonight, The Palace
Outlook: The Pistons (30-32) can move into a tie with the Bulls for seventh place in the East and gain an advantage in the head-to-head season series. Dwyane Wade (thigh) and Rajon Rondo (ankle) are game-time decisions.