2020-21 Rewind: Frank Jackson flashed Microwave-like qualities as a Pistons bench scorer
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
There’s a reason Vinnie Johnson is still the gold standard of sixth men among Pistons fans with long memories. It’s because the ability to score – consistently and efficiently – while coming off an NBA bench every night is a rare trait.
And it’s especially challenging for a young player – almost all of them accustomed to starting and thriving as a focal point of his team’s offense at every level before the NBA – to master the art of scoring off the bench. Half a season isn’t the ultimate litmus test to prove one’s viability in that role, but Frank Jackson got off to an eyebrow-raising start with the Pistons once he was unleashed in the second half of the most unusual 2020-21 season – and he did it while playing under a two-way contract.
He’s not yet put himself in the company of “The Microwave,” but there might be a campaign to settle on the right nickname for Jackson if he keeps going down the trail he blazed in his first season in Detroit. Here’s a look at Jackson’s 2020-21 season with the Pistons:
PROFILE: 6-foot-3 guard, 23 years old, 3 NBA seasons
2020-21 STATS: 9.8 points per game on .407 3-point shooting
STATUS: Jackson will be a restricted free agent in August
A LOOK BACK: There aren’t a ton of five-star prospects that emerge from Utah and that was likely the reason it took Jackson a little longer than most players of that magnitude to convince recruiters he belonged in such company. An early commit to home-state Brigham Young, Jackson switched his commitment to Duke when the bluebloods discovered Jackson’s athleticism and scoring chops on the AAU circuit. He was part of a stacked Duke recruiting class headlined by Jayson Tatum and was a part-time starter during his one-and-done 2016-17 season with the Blue Devils, averaging 10.9 points in 25 minutes a game for a 28-9 team led in scoring by sophomore Luke Kennard. Jackson was the first pick of the second round, going 31st to New Orleans in a draft-night deal with Charlotte. Jackson broke his right foot before the draft and the injury required follow-up surgeries that eventually cost him what would have been his rookie season, pushing his NBA debut back to the 2018-19 season. He averaged 8.1 and 6.3 points per game during his two seasons in New Orleans, averaging 19 minutes a game in 2018-19 when injuries and the Anthony Davis saga undermined the Pelicans’ season. He signed with Oklahoma City as a free agent before training camp last December but was waived by the Thunder three weeks later on the eve of opening night.
THE SEASON THAT WAS: The Pistons signed Jackson to a two-way contract less than a week into the season after he was cut loose in Oklahoma City. He debuted for the Pistons on Jan. 8 but played sparingly for the first two-plus months due to a number of factors but mostly because the NBA had yet to amend restrictions that limited the number of days two-way players could spend with the parent NBA team. Once that restriction was lifted at the early-March All-Star break, Jackson became a consistent member of the rotation and flourished as a bench scorer. Notably, Jackson improved as a 3-point shooter; after shooting .314 and .326 from the arc during his two seasons in New Orleans, Jackson shot .407 with the Pistons on 3.8 attempts per game or 7.3 attempts per 36 minutes. Jackson took 51.2 percent of his shots from the 3-point arc, using his athleticism to become an increasingly potent finisher at the rim to complement the enhanced threat of his perimeter shot. In 31 games after the All-Star break, Jackson averaged 12.1 points in 22 minutes a game and hit 41.6 percent of his triples.
A LOOK AHEAD: Jackson’s restricted free agency, along with that of teammate Hamidou Diallo, will be among the most important circumstances the Pistons front office must confront over the off-season. Jackson was unfailingly enthusiastic about his experience with the Pistons and often professed his appreciation for playing in Dwane Casey’s system; Casey, in turn, was an ardent supporter of Jackson. There appears strong mutual interest in extending the relationship and the home team has a significant advantage in retaining restricted free agents. Having just turned 23, Jackson fits the timeline of a young Pistons roster. Though Jackson is more a shooting guard than the point guard he was recruited to be at Duke and where he played during most of his tenure in New Orleans, he fits Casey’s desire to have multiple ballhandlers and playmakers on the floor and his size/athleticism allow him to match up with most wing players. Casey, in fact, called Jackson one of the team’s better defenders and lauded his competitiveness and toughness at that end. Jackson’s improvement as a 3-point shooter feels like it has staying power, too, as he cited his off-season focus and the tutelage he received in New Orleans from J.J. Redick and in Detroit from Wayne Ellington, who noted not long after Jackson’s arrival how fundamentally sound Jackson’s footwork as a shooter was.
MONEY QUOTE: “I’m so happy with Frank’s growth. I’m so excited about his growth. Here’s a young man who got cut, came in as a two-way player, who has earned every inch of his playing time and he’s special. I know he’s a keeper. Works every day, puts his nose to the grind. He does everything the right way on both ends of the floor. He does an excellent job defensively and offensively. He’s that spark plug off the bench.” – Dwane Casey late in the season on Frank Jackson