Since the Detroit Pistons acquired Reggie Jackson at the 2015 trade deadline, the synergy between he and Andre Drummond has been one of the franchise’s bedrocks.
There just hasn’t been enough of it for a foundation.
In spite of a promising start during their first full season together in 2015-16 (when they led the Pistons to their first playoff berth in almost a decade), things have gone off the rails since.
Jackson missed the first month and a half of the 2016-17 season with knee tendinitis and was never the same when he returned. In 2017-18, he took a while to find his rhythm and, around the time he did, suffered a devastating “Grade Three” ankle sprain that caused him to miss most of the rest of that campaign.
The beginning of this season seemed to be more of the same: Jackson started slow and appeared to be missing much of the burst and explosive first step he had during those heady playoff days when he led the Pistons to the playoffs as their best player.
Andre Drummond had also seen reduced utility as a playmaker and point center thanks to Blake Griffin’s arrival last year. While having an All-Star like Griffin on your team is never a bad thing, it initially left Drummond’s role muddied and unclear.
This eliminated that point center role from Drummond’s repertoire, no longer facilitating from the perimeter in the form of handoffs and finding cutters to the basket. In the absence of what had become a remarkable element to his game last season, Drummond reverted to posting up for the bulk of his possessions.
It’s no longer 1990, and the post up is often little more effective than a pat on the back for any big man: It’s a way for the team to keep him engaged or to reward him for his hard work on the other end of the floor, but that’s all.
That’s especially true in Drummond’ case. In spite of his size and athleticism, his shot selection and locations from the post historically needed some work, to put it generously.
While there’s no stopping him when he has the ball under the basket on rolling attacks, put-backs and the like, he often settled for hopeless, contested long hook shots when purposely setting up down there:
Over the first 51 games of the season, he posted up 210 times, or 23.3 percent of his total possessions. He scored a woeful .786 points per possession from the post, very much in line with his career numbers.
Needless to say, it was too much, but coach Dwane Casey didn’t have many options on the offensive end. As a team, the Pistons shot poorly when they were open, poorly from three and poorly from the corners.
Reggie Jackson didn’t have any burst or ability to get by defenders, so the gameplan devolved to giving the ball to Blake Griffin and telling him to go do things.
Blake is great, but that’s not going to get it done.
Something changed around the middle of January. Jackson seemed to get some of that old spring back in his step, and everything bounced with him.
Serendipitously, around the time Jackson got it together, Drummond missed several games with a concussion that conveniently gave him time to allow an injured finger to heal as well.
While the Pistons don’t tend to get a lot of breaks, perhaps this head injury miraculously helped them out.
With Jackson suddenly imbued with youth and the ability to get by his man, and Drummond eventually healthy both in head and hand, the Pistons kicked up the pick-and-roll volume 12 games ago.
Prior to that, Jackson’s pick-and-roll impact was middling at best. As the ball handler, he scored a meager .866 points per possession; Cutters and rollers were scarcely better, as they scored a combined .99 points per possession off his passes. Just 45.7 percent of Jackson’s total possessions were pick-and-rolls.
After that point, a whopping 61.8 percent of Jackson’s possessions came in the form of pick-and-rolls. He scored a sparkling 1.04 points per possession. Now a threat to blow by his man and get to the rim with ease, he was drawing help defenders, which left shooters open and allowed Drummond’s substantial gravity off the roll to clear lanes.
The Pistons have scored 1.112 points per possession off Jackson’s passes, and the synergy with Drummond has had a reciprocal impact:
Drummond quickly forfeited his low-expectation post ups and replaced them with roll opportunities and cuts off the ball. In these last 12 games, he’s only posted up 22 times—a remarkable drop to just 11.8 percent of his possessions.
When he is getting the ball in the post, he’s that much deeper in the paint, a zone where he’s simply unstoppable. He’s scoring an impressive 1.045 points per possession and forcing defenders to send him to the line rather than giving up easy dunks and layups:
The bulk of his possessions over this span are coming in the form of cuts, where he’s scoring 1.455 points per possession.
But his greatest impact comes as Jackson’s accomplice in the pick-and-roll where he has scored 1.5 points per possession:
While Blake Griffin still carries the bulk of the Pistons’ offense, and the defense has made some critical adjustments as well, no single development will have as great an impact on the team’s future this season and in the future than Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond’s symbiosis. With the Pistons climbing back into the playoff race and hoping to ladder up the Eastern standings, this duo is responsible for a great deal of their team’s potential.
Jackson enters the last year of his contract next season, and this might be his last shot to make some noise in the Motor City with Drummond. If either fall short this season, Jackson could be moved as an expiring $18 million salary to a team looking to clear cap space next year.
After two years of disappointment, Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond have the opportunity to redeem themselves and each other, as the Pistons try to get back into the playoffs one more time.
All stats from Synergy and are accurate as of February 28th.
Duncan loves the pick-and-roll and good defense. He’s a long-suffering Pistons fan who observes the wider NBA with an analytical eye. You can follow him @duncansmithnba on Twitter.