Jackson & Jackson solidify their status on a night Pistons see Spurs make the game’s final run
Logan Riely (NBAE via Getty Images)
Life turns over fast on you in the NBA. Four years ago, Josh Jackson was a teenage rookie lottery pick. Frank Jackson, a rookie that same season, was nursing an injury that kept him sidelined all year and imperiled his career ever getting off the ground.
On Thursday night, Josh Jackson was the old man of the team he grew up idolizing – at 24, more than two years older than the next oldest starter – and Frank Jackson was the stabilizing force of a bench unit nearly as young.
“It’s pretty funny,” Josh Jackson said. “That’s the NBA. Guys are coming in every year, younger and younger. You’ve just got to be super focused and a hard worker. I feel like I’m doing all those things to make me a great player.”
In a game of runs, San Antonio – a team fighting for a playoff berth in the Western Conference and desperate for a win after three straight home losses – scratched out the last and most important one, a 13-1 burst after the Pistons pulled within three midway through the fourth quarter.
“That’s the NBA,” Frank Jackson said after another double-digits night off the bench, scoring 14 points. “They did a better job of executing down the stretch. We got lackadaisical at times and they just executed better.”
Frank Jackson wound up playing with a unit of Jahlil Okafor, Tyler Cook, recently acquired Hamidou Diallo and rookie Saben Lee, a group that likely has spent precious little time together even in practice. But they brought the Pistons back and put them in position to win – the type of laboratory experience for all those young players critical to the franchise’s future that is at the heart of their 2020-21 season.
“I liked the fight. That group that was in there – Saben Lee and Tyler Cook – those guys competed,” Dwane Casey said after the 106-91 loss. “It wasn’t about talent. It wasn’t about skill. It was about competition, loose balls, getting on the floor, boxing out. All those things. Now, we’ve got to develop our skill.”
Both Jacksons – Josh just turned 24 in February, Frank is still 22 – are shining examples of that for the four rookies, two of them 19, who played key roles in Thursday’s game and for second-year forward Sekou Doumbouya, 20.
Josh Jackson carried the load for the starters, finishing with 29 points on a night the Pistons held out starters Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee and Cory Joseph plus key reserve Wayne Ellington.
“He has a very serious approach right now,” Casey said. “Understanding what his role is. He’s taking better care of the basketball than he was before and that’s the thing he has to grow with – taking care of the basketball and making sure he makes the right decisions. In games like this, he’s the veteran of the group.”
He got his chance a little ahead of Frank Jackson, playing on a two-way contract and under the constraints – at least until the NBA lifted them last month – that limit the days available to spend on NBA rosters under those terms.
Now both Jacksons appear on firm footing for a franchise that’s recast the roster almost completely this season with only Doumbouya, the 2019 No. 1 pick, as a holdover from 2019-20.
“It’s a competitive league,” Frank Jackson said. “You’ve got to stay ready. You’ve got to stay locked in. You’ve got to stay true to your work. Josh has done a tremendous job. He stepped it up. You never know when your number’s going to be called, so you’ve just got to be ready.”
The rookies all had their moments. Killian Hayes shot just 5 of 15 as he probed the boundaries of his offensive game a little more to create scoring chances that he’ll expect to finish someday soon. He wound up with 12 points and five assists in 31 minutes. Isaiah Stewart put up eight points, a game-high 13 rebounds and two blocked shots. Saddiq Bey hit 2 of 4 triples in a nine-point night, twisting his ankle midway through the third quarter but gritting it out the rest of the way. Lee had two points and three assists in his 17 minutes.
Casey doesn’t lower his standards of performance on nights the games get turned over to the 24-and-under bunch, nor does he coach to win with any less vigor. So he didn’t like the 18 turnovers that led to 22 San Antonio points and the shot chart won’t make him happy, either.
“When you get up only 22 threes, that’s not who we have to be,” he said. “To win in today’s NBA, you’d better be a hell of a 2-point scorer, a high-percentage mid-range shooter, to win if you’re only going to shoot 22 threes and miss nine free throws.”
And then he came back around to the quality he foremost hopes becomes the calling card of the Pistons going forward: “The competitive level is the positive we take away from that.”