2020-21 Rewind: Return to hometown Pistons help Jackson get career back on track

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Josh Jackson won a Michigan state championship as a high school sophomore and his return to Detroit helped him get a foothold on solidifying his NBA career
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

There were some fits and starts to Josh Jackson’s first season with the Pistons around minor injuries, but the flashes were brilliant – enough to give all hope that a return to his hometown helped spark a career revival for a player who’s been tabbed since his early teens as destined for greatness.

Pretty much every accolade a basketball player yet to reach college can achieve, Jackson earned. And the early returns were promising after Jackson was a high lottery pick in Phoenix in 2017. But amid a Suns management transition and following some off-court incidents, the bridges were burned in Phoenix and Jackson was suddenly fighting for his career in the G League after his trade to Memphis.

Here’s a look at Jackson’s 2020-21 season with the Pistons:

PROFILE: 6-foot-8 wing, 24 years old, 4 NBA seasons
2020-21 STATS: 13.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 25 minutes per game
STATUS: Jackson has one year remaining on the reported two-year contract he signed with the Pistons in November 2020

A LOOK BACK: Jackson was earmarked early on as a nationally elite player in his age group, shining on the AAU circuit and winning three gold medals with USA Basketball, including the 2015 U19 and 2014 U17 World Championship. In 2014, he led Detroit Consortium to the Michigan Class C state championship as a sophomore, averaging 28 points and 15 rebounds a game. Jackson spent his final two seasons at Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif., and chose Kansas over Arizona and Michigan State when he was considered the nation’s No. 1 consensus recruit over players such as Jayson Tatum, Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz. Jackson stepped into the starting lineup at Kansas and was the only freshman on the All-Big 12 team in 2017 after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds in 31 minutes a game for a team that went 31-5 and lost to Oregon one game short of the Final Four. Jackson was drafted fourth overall by Phoenix – after Fultz, Ball and Tatum went 1-2-3 – and became a part-time starter with the Suns as a rookie. Jackson averaged 13.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in 25 minutes a game. Jackson improved his 3-point shooting from 26 percent to 32 percent in his second season but his scoring and rebounding dipped slightly and Phoenix traded him to Memphis that off-season. Jackson spent a good chunk of the 2019-20 season in the G League but finished the season on an upswing with the Grizzlies and parlayed that into a two-year deal with the Pistons, his hometown team, in free agency.

THE SEASON THAT WAS: Jackson started 25 of 62 games for the Pistons and, at his best, settled in as the anchor of Dwane Casey’s second unit, often finishing games and taking on the toughest perimeter defensive assignment where his tenacity, length and athleticism play to Jackson’s strengths. Offensively, Jackson is at his best in transition and slashing to the basket. Jackson blew hot and cold from the 3-point line, finishing at 30 percent – almost exactly at his career norm of 29.8 percent. Jackson spent most of his time at shooting guard but another considerable chunk at small forward and, occasionally, he took a turn at power forward, reflecting the nature of his defensive versatility. Spotty 3-point shooting and turnovers – he averaged 3.3 per 36 minutes -- remained Jackson’s bugaboos. Jackson is a willing passer and has playmaking ability, but many of his turnovers resulted from trying to force passes through heavy traffic. On nights the 3-point shot was falling and Jackson didn’t feel compelled to try to make plays against packed defenses, he often took over games. His quickness, length and slashing instincts result in Jackson drawing fouls in bunches; his free-throw rate of 5.0 per 36 minutes was topped only by two other supreme slashers, Jerami Grant (6.8) and Hamidou Diallo (5.3).

A LOOK AHEAD: Jackson will be competing for minutes with the likes of Saddiq Bey and Hamidou Diallo at small forward and shooting guard in 2020-21 with plenty of others, from Sekou Doumbouya to Frank Jackson (like Diallo, a pending restricted free agent), likely in the mix. Becoming a more consistent 3-point shooter is a key to unlocking the NBA potential in Jackson and helping him live up to expectations for a one-time No. 4 overall pick. A Jackson who can hit threes at the league average of 35 or 36 percent becomes much more dangerous given his ability to get to the rim. With four NBA seasons under his belt, a full off-season spent immersed in the Pistons system after precious little acclimation time prior to tipping off 2020-21 and the urgency of a contract year driving him, the Pistons figure to get the best version of Josh Jackson for 2021-22.

MONEY QUOTE: “Josh should be on that path – will be on that path for us. He’s a talented young man learning how to play with the ball with a lot of responsibility. With that freedom comes accountability. That’s his next step.” – Dwane Casey on Josh Jackson following in the footsteps of Jerami Grant, who blossomed at 26 when given broader responsibility with the Pistons in his seventh NBA season

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