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Pistons and Josh Jackson Are Rebuilding Together

Detroit’s rebuild is centered around their talented crop of rookies, but the low-key free agent signing of Josh Jackson is providing a spark for the team as he revitalizes his career.

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It has been another rough season for the Detroit Pistons.

Their 8-19 record has them just a half-game ahead of the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference basement. They recently traded away Derrick Rose, while their talented rookie point guard Killian Hayes remains out with an injury and Blake Griffin’s tenure in Detroit has seemingly come to an end.

After eight straight seasons of making the playoffs, a run that includes an NBA championship, the Pistons have missed the postseason in nine of the last 11 years. But, as dark as things may seem in Motown, there are a couple of bright spots for the franchise. One of those is Jerami Grant, who is at the top of the list for the Most Improved Player Award this season. The other sense of hope and optimism is centered around another free agent that Troy Weaver signed in the offseason.

Josh Jackson may not be a frontrunner for any awards this season, but his play over the last two weeks has provided quite the spark for the Pistons, who have now won three of their last four games.

Over the last eight games, Jackson is averaging 18 points, six rebounds and three assists. He poured in 28 points and eight rebounds against the Los Angeles Lakers, then put up 22 points and eight rebounds against the league’s best team, the Utah Jazz. Jackson is Detroit’s second-leading scorer this season as he continues to revive his career.

There are reclamation projects every year, but Jackson’s path is somewhat unique. After spending most of last season with the Memphis Hustle in the NBA G-League, the former Kansas Jayhawk signed a two-year deal with the Pistons this offseason worth $9.8 million.

Before he arrived on the NBA scene, Jackson was often the best player in every game that he played. That changed quickly, however, when Jackson was taken with the fourth pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. As he failed to adapt to the NBA game, Jackson struggled.

Eventually, after the Phoenix Suns cut ties with him, Jackson made his way to Memphis and the Hustle. And, while being sent to the developmental league might be a crushing blow to the confidence of any player, Jackson instead chose to view it as an opportunity to work on his game. There is something to be said for the maturity he showed during the process, and for being humbled by the experience.

Maturity and consistency are two key factors for young players entering the league. Jackson just turned 24-years-old and has plenty of potential and talent that can still be molded. The length, athleticism and explosiveness have always been there for him, it is just a matter of putting it all together.

To his credit, Jackson has made great strides in his ball-handling and defensive awareness. Learning where he needs to be on defensive rotations has resulted in career-high averages in steals and blocks. Detroit’s lack of wing depth, meanwhile, has allowed him to get consistent playing time, which has proven invaluable.

Head coach Dwane Casey has trusted Jackson with the ball in his hands more, allowing him to be a shot creator for himself and others. He is more involved in the pick-and-roll and has flourished on the fast-break, contributions that have proven vital for Detroit’s struggling offense.

One of the reasons why Jackson has begun to find himself is his versatility. While he may not be elite at any one skill, Jackson is a Swiss Army knife that can do a bit of everything and fit into almost any lineup. He has demonstrated the ability to guard three positions, attack the rim, facilitate, draw fouls and create his own shot.

Detroit is hoping that Dennis Smith Jr. can follow in Jackson’s footsteps. When Weaver made the trade to acquire the young point guard, it was another future project that could ultimately pay dividends. Smith was drafted in the same class as Jackson, taken just five spots later. The two top picks now find themselves as teammates on a rebuilding roster with the opportunity to resurrect their careers.

 

One of the underrated ways to win in the NBA is by utilizing young players that have a chip on their shoulder with something to prove. These players often tend to play hard and give 100 percent every minute they are on the floor. Some examples this season include the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Houston Rockets; they may not possess the talent of the top teams in the league, but they can win on any given night just by being underestimated or overlooked.

The Pistons are one of the youngest teams in the league and have some serious potential with rookies Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. The veteran presence of Griffin and Wayne Ellington is important for their growth and development. Even Jahlil Okafor could provide guidance and retrospect for Jackson and Smith, being as he was in a similar circumstance a couple of years ago in New Orleans.

Tempering expectations is an important aspect of all of this. After being a McDonald’s All-American in high school, an All-American in college, and being named to the All-Rookie Second Team in the NBA, many people envisioned Jackson as a future star. But now, making strides and improving each day should be the focus for Jackson, as he gets his career back on track.

Sometimes a change of scenery can do a person wonders, and professional athletes are no exception. Jackson seems to have found a home in Detroit and could be a prominent part of their future. While playing in the G-League, another opportunity is all that Jackson wanted. Detroit gave that to him, and both are benefiting from it.

Chad is a Basketball Insiders contributor based in Indianapolis.

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