Auburn Hills — After appearing in every game for the first time in his eight-year career, Reggie Jackson admitted he’s finally coming around to believing Arnie Kander’s seemingly strange prediction.
Kander, the franchise’s guru of injury prevention and now adviser to the medical staff, had the counterintuitive hypothesis that Jackson would be getting stronger while others are breaking down late in the season, despite the 29-year-old point guard starting all 86 Pistons games.
Monday night’s final piece of evidence was perhaps the most compelling proof.
“Arnie told me it would come,” Jackson said Tuesday as select Pistons met with the media at The Palace practice facility during locker room clean-out day. “He’s like when guys are starting to tail off, you’re going to start get stronger, just because the summer you had. I’m like, ‘Yeah, that sounds crazy, that’s not possible.’”
Jackson is now a full believer in Kander’s candor, like how Pistons greats such as Isiah Thomas and Tayshaun Prince were swayed throughout their career.
But to get anywhere near that level of Pistons prestige, Jackson needs more individual nights and highlights like Monday. Jackson starred at times in Detroit’s final game of the season, a 127-104 drubbing by Milwaukee to close out a four-game sweep in the first round of the playoffs.
The Pistons led by six points at halftime with Jackson’s 20-point half capped by an emphatic put-back dunk in traffic off a Langston Galloway miss, showing off springs that weren’t there the first half of the season.
“I feel faster, I feel stronger, I just feel it coming, I feel quicker, I’m getting more confident,” he said. “It’s just the tough part that as I’m feeling better, the season is over.”
It’s a much different feeling than a year ago when Jackson did not touch the ball much over the summer, electing instead to rest his injured right ankle, which caused him to miss 37 games in 2017-18 after sitting out 30 the season before.
“I look forward to it,” Jackson said. “I look forward to being healthy and actually being able to workout and work on my game, and to come back and hopefully help the team improve next year.”
Jackson had 20 of his 26 points in the first half but the Pistons fell, 127-104, to the Bucks in Game 4. The Detroit News
It wasn’t just Monday though, as Jackson showed increased burst down the stretch, which led to increased production.
In the final 34 games of the season, Jackson averaged 17.2 points per game, hitting 3-pointers at a 40.6-percent clip. That’s after scoring scoring 14.1 points and connecting at 34.2 percent from long range before that.
After Monday’s game, Jackson said he sat quietly in the locker room with Blake Griffin as two of the only Pistons with experience advancing in the playoffs.
“I think Blake and I almost had — we’re very proud of the season, but I had to look back (Tuesday) morning and really be proud of what we did — but I had more of a half-empty feeling,” Jackson said. “The other guys, they had excitement. Hopefully they want to get better to get past this point. To see those faces and know what we’ve accomplished, for guys to get a taste of experiencing playoffs is amazing. “It’s only going to help everyone get better. Experience is the best teacher.”
Jackson said after the loss, he sat up until 7 a.m. talking to his older brother about how he was feeling good. It was a sad conversation that Jackson said turned hopeful at the end, looking ahead to next season, which will be the final one of his five-year, $80-million deal.
“It’s tough to have that play, that’s what I told him,” Jackson said of Monday’s dunk. “I was talking to my brother and I was like, ‘It’s tough that the season’s over because my body is starting to feel stronger. Even at game 86, I feel like I hit a spurt and I’m starting to get even more energy.
“I’m already looking at it from a different standpoint. I’m looking forward to workouts, but also thinking about my flaws.”
Jackson also had chats with Kander and Ben Wallace on Monday, two pillars of Pistons past who once took the franchise to places Jackson hopes to go.
“I’m proud of the way we competed, and we just stayed the course,” Jackson said. “When I look at the collective group and look at everybody, I truly feel that we’re capable of more. It just makes me optimistic about what the chances are next year if God allows us to see that day, allows us to be healthy and we keep a lot of the structure that we have. I’m excited about building off that."
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.