AUBURN HILLS – The effects of Reggie Jackson’s injury on the Pistons 2016-17 season were catastrophic. The effects beyond that, he and Stan Van Gundy expect, will be non-existent.
In fact, perhaps beneficial.
“I think it’s going to be good in the long run,” Jackson said last week. “Force me to have to play a little different, force me to have to expand my game. I truly believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel and I see it. Everything I’ve gone through so far this season will be all worth it and will make everything that much more joyful.”
Van Gundy feels more strongly he made the right decision in informing Jackson he wasn’t going to play him for an indeterminate time last week.
“Now he’s able to focus on what he’s supposed to focus on and everybody else can just focus on playing,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “I think everybody’s in a better spot right now. That’s not a decision that I’ve second guessed at all. I second guess almost every decision I make, but that one, I think, has gone the way I had hoped it would go.”
Van Gundy and Jackson sat down Monday and talked about the future with the benefit of detached perspective that comes with relieving Jackson of the burden Van Gundy sensed was weighing him – and, subsequently, the team – down as Jackson pressed. The harder he pushed to be the player he was, the deeper into quicksand he sunk.
“My goal is to have him back better than he ever was and I think we can get to that because I think he’s learned a lot from this whole situation, too,” Van Gundy said. “I think he’s healthier and healthier. I think he’ll be 100 percent when next year starts and I think he’ll be better mentally with the whole thing.”
Van Gundy’s confidence that Jackson will return to form – and then progress from there – is rooted in a few things. One, the Jackson he saw to start training camp was “dominant” before left knee tendinosis cropped up and precipitated a platelet-rich plasma injection that idled him for two months. For as problematic as the timing of the injury was for its effect on this season, there is little concern or evidence that it will have lasting impact on Jackson’s capabilities. Two, Jackson’s age is decidedly in his corner.
“He’ll tell you he doesn’t have pain. He’s fine,” Van Gundy said. “But you’ve seen a lot of guys go through injuries. It takes time to really get back. He was trying to get back and as the games grew in importance and he had some bad ones, it started weighing him down and he wanted to do all the things he thought he should be able to do. He put a lot of pressure on himself, forced the issue a little bit. He’s a competitor and he just wasn’t fight and it started to spiral a little bit.
“I blame myself for that, a little bit, that we didn’t take care of this a little bit earlier. But it’s nothing he would’ve asked to do. He had some very good games, some very good fourth quarters. But I don’t think he ever got to a point where he felt like him himself. This is just the start of a long off-season of getting himself to not only get physically right but to mentally recharge, take the learning experiences from this season and come back better than ever. He’ll be 27 years old next year, so he’s coming into his prime, not going out of it.”
The Pistons have only rarely produced enough offensive to put together winning stretches this season, not a great surprise given the central role Jackson played in the design and function of Van Gundy’s offense. Andre Drummond hasn’t had nearly as many easy lobs and put-backs without Jackson drawing defenders off of him and the Pistons’ plunge in 3-point shooting – they rank 29th in 3-point shooting at 32.6 percent – is almost surely influenced by the lack of attention defenses had to pay to the threat of Jackson’s penetration.
“It’s affected all of us,” Van Gundy said. “This was a guy who was our leading scorer last year, our best shot creator. One of the best – if not the best – closers in the league. It’s going to affect everybody and it totally changes the dynamic of how you play, so guys have been thrust into different roles. It’s been difficult and we look forward to having him back to where he was.”