Encouraging signs from Jackson in debut as Pistons rally past Pacers

DETROIT – Stan Van Gundy can work with what Reggie Jackson showed him Monday.

It wasn’t just that Jackson was playing his first meaningful game since last spring, it’s that he really hasn’t had much at all in the way of approximating NBA basketball. No scrimmaging all summer. Could barely touch a basketball. Limited the first four days of training camp. Sat out the past week to let a tight groin muscle settle down.

So the numbers didn’t matter all that much from the 107-97 Pistons win. But the numbers weren’t bad: 14 points, six assists, zero turnovers in nearly 26 minutes.

Beyond the numbers, there was the passing gear that Jackson simply didn’t possess last season. He was rusty, so the runners he makes so deftly weren’t falling. And he was empty in four tries from the 3-point line, shooting 6 of 15 overall.

But there were reasons to smile. And Jackson did.

“There were only five defenders on the court this time. That felt good, to be playing five on five. Last year, I felt like guys were just coming out of nowhere. I felt like I was at Clemson, a freshman again, and the 40 minutes of hell. That’s how I felt last year. Felt guys were coming from everywhere. I think I felt a little confidence today when I was able to turn the corner. It felt good to turn the corner on a speedy guard (Darren Collison) in this league,” Jackson said.

The plan was to play Jackson for the first six minutes of the first and third quarters and see how he responded. The fact he played similar chunks of time in both the second and fourth quarters can only be interpreted positively.

“He wanted to go,” Van Gundy said. “Even at the end of the third quarter, I asked him if he wanted to come back in the fourth and he did. It was good from a conditioning thing to have him go through that.”

Van Gundy and Jackson even left open the possibility Jackson would play Tuesday night at Toronto in a back to back.

“We’d like him to. We’ll see,” Van Gundy said. “These guys who played big minutes tonight are going to be a little tired – first back to back of the season and, for Reggie, a back to back after not playing the other games. So it won’t be easy.”

“Felt good. I’ll go and take care of my body right after this and do everything I can to be ready,” Jackson said. “If my name’s called, I’ll be ready for tomorrow.”

In the handful of practices Jackson participated in, and the few scrimmages that entailed, Van Gundy saw signs of his point guard in attack mode, getting to the rim – the quality that made him one of the NBA’s top 10 at his position in 2015-16, the quality so glaringly absent last season when he returned from left knee tendinosis that cost him the first 21 games of the season. He saw him cross another hurdle on Monday.

“I thought he made good plays in his pick-and-roll game, particularly in the second half. In the first half, he didn’t really ever get in a good rhythm but I thought he made good plays in his pick-and-roll game. He was doing a good job when he went on the attack. He made some nice plays out to people. He didn’t have any turnovers in the game, so I thought that was really good.”

When Jackson sat, Ish Smith settled comfortably into his anticipated role off the bench, continuing a strong preseason. Smith matched Jackson’s 14 points and led the Pistons with nine assists against two turnovers.

Van Gundy didn’t play Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer – a response to Indiana’s Nate McMillan sitting four starters and two key reserves – and Andre Drummond (conjunctivitis) and Avery Bradley (ankle) sat out, as well.

Reggie Bullock made his preseason debut a strong one, finishing with 13 points and combining with Anthony Tolliver to split a half-dozen triples off the bench. I’ll have more on those two veterans – and their battles for playing time with the last two No. 1 draft picks, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard, on Tuesday morning.

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