The Pistons didn’t grab national headlines with their off-season acquisitions, but they did grab the attention of their point guard.
“I’m impressed,” Reggie Jackson said after a pre-training camp scrimmage with Stan Van Gundy’s newly assembled roster that includes free-agent acquisitions Ish Smith, Jon Leuer and Boban Marjanovic and draft picks Henry Ellenson and Michael Gbinije. “I feel like we’ve gotten overlooked because people don’t necessarily think we’ve made some great” – and here Jackson makes air quotes with his hands – “with the emphasis on the quotes, off-season moves. But I think, for our team, we had some great pickups.”
And so Jackson expects the leads his unit hands to Stan Van Gundy’s bench to be preserved – extended, even – with greater consistency than they were a year ago. Pistons starters logged more minutes as a unit last season than any other team’s and had favorable plus/minus numbers.
The bench was something of a wild card. Its most critical position, point guard, was handicapped by circumstance more so than by personnel. It started the season with Steve Blake, who missed nearly all of training camp due to a concussion, then transitioned in late December to the rusty Brandon Jennings, coming off an Achilles tendon injury, and then having to go back to Blake after Jennings went to Orlando in February as part of the Tobias Harris package.
Jackson is a big Smith fan, familiar with him since their days in the ACC – Jackson at Boston College, Smith at Wake Forest – and believes his influence will solidify the bench.
“He can create havoc in the second unit and push the attack. He created havoc with the first unit in Philly last year. It’s probably going to be child’s play for him against second units. With that speed and that unselfishness, that competitiveness he has … this is something we’ve talked about, how we really know each other, how we complement each other. We’re a different pace of guys. We really think we can hit it off well and make these units run well.”
Jackson spent the bulk of his off-season training in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and was one of the ringleaders in organizing this summer’s team activity. After spending a week in Las Vegas training with MMA fighters last year, the Pistons amassed this summer for a week in Malibu, working out together during the days and playing pickup games on Pepperdine’s campus in the evenings.
That put them in proximity to Pistons owner Tom Gores and Jackson was pleased that the newcomers were able to get a glimpse of what makes their owner tick.
“He wanted to be around us and see us, so we got to be around him and I think it was good for guys to get to see him and see how enthusiastic he is and how invested he is in our success,” Jackson said. “Everybody got to get a little more extensive time with Tom. Everybody got to see how fiery he is, the passion he has – a big reason why we had success last year and hopefully why we continue to have success.”
Jackson enters his second full season with the Pistons more comfortable with the leadership role that naturally falls to starting point guards. He’s also aware his leadership will be more critical this time around after the departures of the most senior – and among the most respected – voices in the locker room: Blake, Joel Anthony and Anthony Tolliver.
“It’s time for us to step up,” he said. “You don’t find too many guys like that who are very team oriented and who have had success in the league and who are still about the success of the team and the success of the individuals around them, especially willing to give back so much knowledge of the game and sharing with the guys. Me and a few of the other guys, it’s kind of like they forced (leadership) upon us. I feel it’s forced upon me to lead now and now’s the time to really step up. This is the year to do it.
“I’m ready for the challenge. I’m ready to be a voice of reason, a voice of serenity and calmness for this team, and try to keep motivating us to push forward. But it’s going to be a collective effort that we all get on this train and keep moving it.”
Jackson ticked off virtually every name on the roster by way of talking about the lineup possibilities at Van Gundy’s fingertips this season. Between the internal improvement he sees coming from the young starters and the depth added via free agency and the draft, he sees a team equipped to handle every variety of lineup it faces over the 82-game season.
“I think people are looking for huge names and that’s not necessarily what Detroit’s ever done,” he said. “We do it collectively. We don’t need anyone to believe in us. We’ll still find a way. But I think we shored up our second unit and added some more versatility and some more depth. I think we’ll be scary this year. But you know what? I don’t want to talk about it too much. We’ll let the season speak for itself.”