With 'elevated' game, it's looking like Reggie Jackson of old
New York — Reggie Jackson hasn’t been himself for the past two seasons. After getting a platelet-rich plasma injection in his left knee in 2016-17 and suffering a grade-3 ankle sprain last season, he’s struggled to get back to his career-best form of three years ago.
There are glimpses, though.
The flashes generally have been a couples of games here or there, but Jackson is in the midst of a two-week stretch that is building some optimism. In the past six games, he’s averaging 19 points, shooting 43 percent on 3-pointers, with 37 assists and only five turnovers.
Those numbers are similar to his 2015-16 season, when he helped lead the Pistons to the playoffs, with 18.8 points and 6.2 assists. It’s a small sample size, but it’s providing what the Pistons (23-29) need, as they’re struggling to climb back to .500 and make a run for the postseason.
“The last couple games, he’s really elevated his offensive game and doing an excellent job in the pick-and-rolls. It’s a make-or-miss league and he’s doing a good job of making some tough shots,” coach Dwane Casey said this week. “He’s been more aggressive and more assertive in his pick-and-rolls, which is what we need.”
Jackson had been relegated to more of a spot-up shooter for most of this season — a role that he admitted takes some adjustment — but he looks to be easing into it now.
It could be an important development for the Pistons, who have been rumored to be looking to trade for the Grizzlies’ Mike Conley to replace Jackson at point guard. If Johnson maintains this kind of production, it could convince the Pistons’ front office to hold off on a deal — especially if it means holding on to their first-round pick, as the rumored trade would include Jackson, the draft pick or potentially Luke Kennard.
While the number of Jackson’s pick-and-roll plays has decreased, Jackson looks to have his legs back, and with it, some added burst to get around defenders, which he showed in Monday’s win over the West-leading Denver Nuggets.
“I feel good. I’m feeling more of the burst, but I’ve stopped myself from comparing it to years before. It was difficult for me to do that, to compare myself to where I was,” Jackson said Monday. “More so, it’s just about being better each and every day. I feel the best I’ve felt in a while.”
As the Pistons have passed the 50-game mark and they have settled into Casey’s system, the results are simply based on whether they’re hitting their outside shots, which drives their offense.
They have been one of the worst teams in the league at hitting 3-pointers and shots near the rim. With another option to work alongside Blake Griffin, Jackson’s spike in production can be a boost.
“He’s more comfortable into it now and he’s allowed himself to go ahead and play basketball. There’s no restriction on him and when he runs the pick-and-roll, he can make a play,” Casey said. “The only person that can stop him is himself. He has the freedom to attack in the pick-and-roll but in today’s NBA, you have to have multiple ball-handlers and multiple finishers.”
In Thursday’s win over a shorthanded Mavericks squad, Jackson had 17 points and tied his season highs of seven rebounds and nine assists.
The chemistry between Jackson and Griffin hasn’t been stellar this season, as exemplified in an oft-ridiculed possession from last week but they’re starting to get on the same page.
Casey didn’t want to linger on placing blame but said Jackson has to take control of that situation and shoot the open opportunity.
“Reggie has to shoot it. When he kicked it out the second time, he’s got to shoot the ball — feet set, ready to shoot,” Casey said. “It’s not who’s right or who’s wrong; it’s being ready to shoot the ball. Once Blake collapses the defense, he’s not ready to let it go. That was an odd situation. When it comes out like that, with an ultra-green light to let it fly.”