Milwaukee — When the Pistons traded for Blake Griffin last season, much of the talk was building the team around a core trio of Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.
Eleven months later, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.
Griffin and Drummond look to be heading for the All-Star Game, but Jackson has had trouble finding his footing. In his first season, coach Dwane Casey has shifted, making Griffin the focus of the offense and Jackson’s role has been de-emphasized.
Jackson admittedly has had an up-and-down season, and has struggled to find a fit as a spot-up shooter after three years of being the primary initiator in Stan Van Gundy’s offense.
“Everybody has difficulties in life, so I can’t really complain. Just trying to figure it out daily. It’s frustrating at times because I wish we had a better record and I could be playing better myself to help the team ultimately,” Jackson said after Tuesday’s loss to the Bucks. “I know I take it personally because I feel like if I was playing better, the team would be doing better. That’s the frustrating thing.
“It’s taking time and we’re all going to get there and get comfortable.”
Through the first 35 games, that comfort hasn’t arrived for Jackson, who missed most of the summer workouts as a precaution in returning from a severely sprained ankle last season and a knee injury the previous year. The layoffs have made it hard for him to get back to his peak level of 2015-16, when he looked like an All-Star himself.
Jackson still thinks he can be productive, but the eye test — especially on the defensive end — shows the difference is glaring. He is still looking to find a consistent burst that made him a pick-and-roll menace with Drummond and to meld with Griffin as the magnet that draws double-teams.
What is ailing the Pistons (16-19) is partly Jackson’s dropoff, but moreso the team’s inability to hit open shots. They rank next-to-last in 3-point percentage (33 percent), and Jackson is shooting almost six 3-point attempts per game and hitting a respectable 34 percent.
The Pistons don’t need Jackson to be the same player he was three years ago, but improved defense and consistent efficient production would be a big step.
“I can be like I was in ’15-16,” Jackson said. “I just have to do it in a different way: pick my spots, find other ways to help the team, whether it be off the ball, screening, cutting, trying to find spots to be effective and help Blake.”
With a drastic change in his role, Jackson said he’s still trying to calibrate where his fit is in the offense — and it’s thrown off his rhythm.
“I find myself in my own head quite a bit sometimes. Always trying to think about the clock, the last possession, how things are going, how the game’s being dictated, how we’re playing,” he said. “I find myself sometimes overthinking instead of playing the game and playing off feel.”
It’s still an adjustment in playing off the ball, more as a perimeter shooter and reacting to the defense that teams play in centering on Griffin. Instead of probing and playing pick-and-roll with Drummond, Jackson is relegated to the 3-point line.
“I’m just getting accustomed to playing with a point-forward, a guy who makes plays for everybody else,” Jackson said. “Early in the season, I was just spotting up and shooting and trying to find my spots to get catches-and-shoots, but also use my length and quickness to the benefit of the whole team by getting to the paint and doing what I do well.
“I’m trying to figure out a way to implement both and it’s taking some time. I’m trying to get better at it.”
Jackson had a good outing Tuesday, shooting 8-for-10 from the field, including 2-of-3 beyond the arc. He minimized bad shots and was a key cog in the offense, drawing praise from Casey.
“He was under control,” Casey said, “but everybody has to raise their level of compete up, whether it’s getting back in transition, whatever it is. (It’s not just) on the offensive end — all around, screening, moving, rotating, transition defense.”
As he tried to find his way, Jackson is trying to stay positive and string together some good games, looking to help get the Pistons out of their funk of 3-12 since their 13-7 start.
“I’m feeling better in the system and the rhythm of shooting shots that I work on. More shots went in (Tuesday) because I wasn’t hesitant,” Jackson said. “That’s my biggest thing, trying to pick my spots and just being decisive in what I do.
“A lot of times, my problems are decisiveness on whether I should make a play or shoot the ball. I’m trying to get a better feel on that and taking care of my teammates.”