Jackson’s return to health could power Pistons’ rebound

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

A year ago, everything seemed to be fine for Reggie Jackson.

He had helped lead the Pistons back to the playoffs and the projections had them finishing in the middle of the East’s playoff teams, a precipitous jump from their six years of missing the playoffs.

In his first full season as a starter, Jackson had his best year, posting career highs of 18.8 points, 6.2 assists and hitting 35 percent on 3-pointers.

But things fall apart.

Quickly, sometimes.

His knee tendinitis got worse as last summer progressed and just before the start of the season, he had platelet-rich plasma injections in his thumb and knee to ease the pain. He missed the first 21 games and was shut down for the last nine games of the year, prepping him for the most important summer of his career.

Jackson, 27, has a scaled-down workout regimen this summer, focusing more on strengthening his knee and staying in shape instead of all-out basketball and the strenuous rigor he was going through during prior summers.

“He’s out in L.A. under the supervision of the doctor out there, and we also have our physical therapist, Mark Cranston, spending the entire summer out there to supervise what’s going on,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said this week on “The Drive With Jack Show” on WQTX in Lansing. “Reggie’s got to have confidence that’s he’s back physically and that he can do the things he did before. This process has been good.

“Last year, the injury came in training camp. He wanted to get back and we wanted him back and I don’t think he was ever right totally physically — and because of that, he wasn’t right mentally.”

In some ways, the Pistons’ success is tethered to Jackson’s health; when he was at a near-All-Star level in 2016, they made the playoffs. After the injury to start last season, they were 11-10 on their way to finishing eight games under .500 and missing the playoffs.

He played most of last season unsure of his how strong his knee was and didn’t have the dual threat in the pick-and-roll of penetrating and shooting from the perimeter or hitting from the outside — though he did shoot 36 percent from beyond the arc.

“This is a long offseason process. He’s got great confidence in it and he’s at a point every day where he wants to do more,” Van Gundy said. “That’s a good sign, and he’ll return with the confidence to attack the basket and make the plays two years ago, when there was no question he was one of the top 10 point guards in the league.”

Jackson flew from Los Angeles to Detroit for Avery Bradley’s introductory press conference last week at the team’s practice facility, where he said he was feeling good. He was optimistic about the change from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as his backcourt mate to Bradley, in addition to Langston Galloway and Luke Kennard, who will make the backcourt a bit more dynamic.

“It’ll be good to attack and for the ball to get reversed to a guy who not only can create a shot for himself but the team as well,” Jackson said. “I’ll be a beneficiary of it and play a little more one-on-one and attack. Since (Bradley’s) been in the league, I don’t doubt he loves to shoot.

“He may not have come in as the most respected shooter, but he’s working extremely hard. He’s been working on his game to get where he is after seven complete seasons. He’s going to do his job and he understands how hard it is to get a good shot. It’s only going to help me, with (Bradley and Galloway).”

If Jackson returns to 100 percent, it could provide a boon as well for center Andre Drummond, who was relegated to more post-ups instead of pick-and-roll plays with Ish Smith playing a bigger chunk of the minutes at point guard.