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NBA PM: The Emergence of Reggie Jackson

After getting paid in July, Reggie Jackson is playing the best basketball of his career for the Detroit Pistons.

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The Emergence of Reggie Jackson

When the Detroit Pistons decided to give Reggie Jackson a five-year contract worth $80 million, many pundits questioned whether he was worth that much money.

In fact, even some fellow NBA players seemed skeptical. Washington Wizards point guard John Wall was the most vocal, expressing disbelief that the two point guards inked similar deals even though Jackson hadn’t been named to an All-Star team or even started that many games during his four NBA seasons.

However, Jackson’s huge deal may soon look like a bargain. For starters, contracts are about to get ridiculously large due to the NBA’s new television deal increasing the salary cap. But another reason the contract could soon look very good for Detroit is because Jackson has stepped up his game this season and seems to be on an All-Star trajectory.

Through 22 games, Jackson has averaged 19.3 points, 6.3 assists, four rebounds and 1.1 steals. His 21.4 PER is 26th among all NBA players and eighth among point guards. He’s also seventh in the NBA in assist percentage (38.3 percent), 12th in usage percentage (29.5) and 16th in box plus-minus (4.1).

Jackson is playing the best basketball of his career, and he likely still has plenty of untapped potential considering he’s only 25 years old and this is the first time he entered an NBA season as an every-night starter.

The emergence of Jackson – coupled with the dominance of Andre Drummond – has helped the Pistons get out to a 12-10 start, which puts them a half game out of the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture.

The NBA recently honored Jackson’s excellent production by naming him the East’s Player of the Week over fellow nominees such as Atlanta’s Al Horford, Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Orlando’s Victor Oladipo.

Jackson earned the award by averaging 27 points and 8.8 assists (while shooting 56.9 percent from the field and 52.9 percent from three-point range) last week. He also had a number of signature performances during the week, including his 34-point, 16-assist outing in a win over the Phoenix Suns and his 31-point, eight-assist, five-rebound, two-steal game in a win over the Houston Rockets. Most importantly, he led the Pistons to an undefeated week with four straight victories.

Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy recently praised his point guard’s terrific play.

“He’s a guy who can really turn the corner and get in the paint,” Van Gundy said. “It’s tough to keep him away from the rim without committing two guys to him, and that opens up people. When he’s driving and attacking and finding people, I mean, we can get good shots pretty much at will. … When he’s really aggressive and decisive and just goes, he’s a damn good player.”

Even though he’s having a career-year, Jackson has been focused on translating his success into more wins. He believes Detroit should be playing better and expects them to turn the corner soon.

“We have a lot of new players on the team, so we are still trying to figure it out,” Jackson said. “We should be ahead of where we are right now, but we have our ups and downs. We are taking our bumps and bruises and trying to move along with this season.”

One issue the Pistons have had at times is a tendency to play up or down to the level of their competition. Jackson recognizes that and wants to help resolve it so that Detroit is more consistent.

“I think when we play good [teams], we do our jobs, we know our roles,” Jackson said. “We haven’t played well against so called ‘lesser teams.’ For some reason, we don’t do our jobs when we play lesser teams. That’s the name of the game. The good teams in the league, everyone does their job [every game]. That’s it, just do your job.”

In addition to playing better, it also seems Jackson is stepping up as a leader for the Pistons. As a young guy in Oklahoma City alongside Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and other veterans, he was never asked to do that. Now, he’s being more vocal. After a recent game, he told teammates that he didn’t want to see anyone passing up good shots or hesitating with the ball in their hands.

“Just shoot your shot – that’s the name of the game,” Jackson said. “You can’t pass up open looks. It’s hard to get one open look, so when you pass up your shot it’s then hard to get the second open look. That has been a part of our problem. It doesn’t matter if you are 0-20, shoot your shot and play defense.”

Others around the NBA are noticing that the Jackson-Drummond duo is very good and has the potential to be exceptional as each player continues to develop. After Houston’s recent loss to Detroit, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff was extremely complimentary of the two and how special they could be in the future.

“They’re huge, they’re very good players,” Bickerstaff said. “This team has a very nice young core. Drummond has the ability to dominate the paint on both ends of the floor, he’s a great offensive rebounder, he’s running the floor now, he’s a tremendous player. Reggie can get in the paint, and he’s tough to guard in the pick-and-roll. Then they have guys who can make shots around them. The team is put together well and you have to give credit to the guys over here. They built around those two guys; they have key pieces around them that help those guys get even better.”

Van Gundy has found franchise cornerstones at point guard and center, and it’s clear the Pistons’ future is very bright. After six straight seasons of missing the playoffs, this may be the year that “DEEETROIT BASKETBALL” is back in the postseason.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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