Rose-Jackson tandem gives Pistons a glimpse of the lineup that might have been
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
DETROIT – Seven possessions. In a preseason game. Less than five minutes.
That’s the sum total the Pistons will wind up getting this season out of the lineup Dwane Casey envisioned closing games when he wanted to field his best offensive unit, a lineup rich in scoring options, shooting and pick-and-roll savants.
It came back on Oct. 9 to finish the third quarter of the second preseason game. Dallas was the night’s opponent.
The Mavericks led by five points when Casey swapped out Tony Snell for Derrick Rose with 4:32 to play in the third quarter, giving the Pistons the lineup that brought Casey’s whiteboard to life: Rose, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard and Blake Griffin fanned out across the perimeter with Andre Drummond roaming the middle to set screens and corral rebounds without a crowd to contest them amid a defense stretched to its limits by the firepower arrayed against it.
Those seven possessions yielded 13 points. All five players scored. Jackson, Kennard and Griffin drained 3-pointers. Rose went into his wheelhouse to sink a mid-range jump shot. Drummond, exploiting all the open space granted him from being surrounded by shooters, dunked off an assist from Jackson.
“I think we found something in that lineup,” Griffin said afterward. “There’s even more options than that. If we need a little more defense, you can put Tony Snell in for somebody. I like that lineup a lot, though.”
Dwane Casey knows he never fielded that lineup in the regular season and you’ll excuse him if he doesn’t recall with perfect clarity the results of their collective preseason output.
Told of their efficiency in those seven possessions, Casey on Thursday said, “Wow. That’s the difference. It’s a talent-driven league. That offensive skill set and talent, that group you just named, is pretty good.” And then, he ruefully added, “when they’re healthy.”
By the time opening night rolled around two weeks later, when Rose and Kennard combined for 48 points off the bench and the Pistons won at Indiana, Griffin was sidelined with residual pain in the left knee that had been surgically repaired. When Jackson returned in the season’s 45th game on Wednesday, only Rose among that tantalizing five-man unit was also in uniform.
Griffin labored through 18 games before another knee surgery shut him down. As Casey spoke at one end of the new Pistons Performance Center, Griffin was going through his rehab at the other end Thursday.
Tendinitis in both knees has limited Kennard to 28 games and counting, with at least another few weeks before a return somewhere around the All-Star break, Casey expects. Even Andre Drummond – as durable a player as exists in today’s NBA – has missed games in this star-crossed season, two for an allergic reaction to avocado that prevented him from wearing his contact lenses and Wednesday’s win after taking a shot to the face that dislodged a tooth and wreaked havoc inside of his mouth in Monday’s game at Washington.
“It’s tough,” Jackson said of the injuries that tore through the locker room after scoring 22 points in his return as the Pistons rolled to a 127-106 win over Sacramento in which he was the best player on the court. “It’s frustrating.”
For the remainder of this season, Casey can at least look forward to Rose and Jackson giving him an edge at point guard in most games. As Jackson ramps up his endurance and can handle 30 minutes a night, he can even get a few minutes each half – maybe something like that glorious 4:32 segment of the preseason’s second game – with Rose and Jackson together.
“It’s going to be interesting to see once we do get to that. It’s tricky now,” Casey said. “Reggie is one of our best 3-point shooters and can also handle the ball. Gives us the two-point-guard – which I love – option because a lot of our stuff is predicated on two ballhandlers.”
Kennard would have given him a third and Griffin a fourth, all of them slick pick-and-roll operators.
Ah, what might have been.
Jackson, at least, is looking forward to playing with Rose over the season’s final 37 games.
“It’ll be fun,” he said. “We got a few minutes together (in the win over Sacramento). Didn’t get a lot of possessions, but I think we showed we could play together in the preseason, especially against Dallas. I think we’ll figure it out. Two guys that have been playing in the league for a long time, two ballhandlers, playmakers. I think we’ll figure it out seamlessly, easy.”