Beard: Reggie Jackson adjusts to new role in Pistons offense
Detroit — Reggie Jackson stood in the corner, hands on his sides, watching as Blake Griffin dribbled and initiated the offense. Jackson waiting to see how Griffin would break down the defense, as the safety valve in case his defender cheated toward the paint to help on Griffin’s drive.
The defender dipped in just enough to create space for Griffin to find Jackson for a corner 3-pointer.
It’s a new era for Jackson — and the rest of the Pistons, in the first year of Dwane Casey’s offense. No longer is the offense predicated on high-pick-and-roll plays with Jackson handling the ball and Griffin or Andre Drummond running to the rim, giving Jackson a choice.
The numbers are showing that the Pistons are benefiting from the switch, with Jackson operating more from the outside. More than half (55 percent) of his field-goal attempts are 3-pointers and he’s shooting 36.1 percent from beyond the arc, which would be a career high.
Last season, 29 percent of his field-goal attempts were 3-pointers, after 27 percent in the previous two seasons. He's nearly doubling those percentages early this year.
It’s a new look for the Pistons, and teams are having a hard time defending it.
“Our offense is dictated through (Griffin) so when he has it going, it opens things for everybody else and just makes it easier,” Jackson said Saturday.
It still doesn’t make the adjustment any easier for Jackson, who is morphing into more of a combo guard rather than a traditional point guard, which has been his role for his whole career.
“I’m accustomed to attacking downhill — that’s kind of what I do,” Jackson said after Saturday’s loss to the Celtics. “It’s an adjustment period for everybody. It is what it is. It’s basketball.
“I train and work extremely hard not only physically but mentally, so I think I’ll figure it out.”
Having Griffin attack from the top has created several mismatches, a big part of his 50-point outburst against the Sixers last week, but it’s also meant a different role for Jackson, who plays on the weak side more and playing more in a two-point-guard tandem with Ish Smith.
Jackson has accepted the change and it’s helping him score more efficiently, as his average has perked up to 16.8, his highest since his career-best season of 2015-16.
The Monday Drive takes a look at a good week for the Pistons, who bolted out to four wins, their best start in a decade, before Saturday’s loss.
1. Defending Blake
In the last two games, teams sent double teams at Griffin, making the Pistons find someone else to attack the defense. It worked. Griffin had just seven points, on 2-of-13 shooting, against the Celtics. Casey might have to vary the offense more, with Jackson or Smith initiating pick-and-roll plays and varying the mix.
“It’s disappointing, but we had some things we had to clean up and when you play a team like Boston, they expose you and the things you don’t do and attention to detail, screening, timing, moving the ball,” Casey said. “We only had 16 assists, so the ball wasn’t moving and against a good defensive team, it’ll expose you.”
2. On the wings
Luke Kennard’s injury could become a bigger issue if the Pistons don’t get increased production from their wings — both starting and reserves. Kennard (shoulder sprain) could be out for three or four weeks and Langston Galloway and Reggie Bullock are shooting a combined 7-of-40 (17.5 percent) on 3-pointers. Glenn Robinson III was signed to be another option, but he’s only played 52 minutes through five games.
Casey said the competition between the wings is keeping things close, but there’s no issue with Robinson, in particular.
“There’s nothing going on — there’s no drama,” Casey said. “Everybody is right in that level; that could change the next game. There’s no quarterback controversy.”
3. Big numbers
Beyond Griffin’s 50-point game, the week also had some big numbers for Drummond, who posted 26 points and 22 rebounds in the win over the Cavs. He has two 20-20 games in five games, but he still hasn’t found a consistent offensive rhythm, as others are looking for the right chemistry with Griffin handling the ball more and in Casey’s shot spectrum, which de-emphasizes long two-point shots. Drummond has been thirsty for shots near the rim and hasn’t passed out of double teams to get better looks. It’s an adjustment that will have to come, to keep defenses honest, as he’s shooting just 51 percent on 2-point shots, the lowest since 2014-15.
4. Some firsts
Jon Leuer played in his first regular-season game Saturday and notched four points, including a dunk and a couple of free throws. It’s his first points since suffering a foot injury on Oct. 31 last season. Jackson was excited about Leuer’s return and scores.
“I might get in trouble for saying this — and excuse my French, but (heck) yeah. I was happy,” Jackson said. “I hope he knows he has me in his corner. I’m just ecstatic.”
Rookie Bruce Brown also got his first NBA points, scoring six, with a couple of field goals and a couple free throws.
5. Hitting the road
This week, the Pistons have their first road trip of the season, with big tests against the Celtics, Nets and Sixers. Two of their first four wins came against the Nets and Sixers at home. A 4-0 start wasn’t sustainable, obviously, but wins are wins. In years past, those single-digit wins were games that might have been losses without some mental fortitude, which Casey has helped build.