SVG’s priority: Get Jackson, Harris back to pre-December peak form

Reggie Jackson has been cleared to being light running as the next step in his recovery from a grade 3 ankle sprain.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DALLAS – When Stan Van Gundy doodles plays or sends one in from the bench, he does it with peak Tobias Harris and Reggie Jackson in mind. They’re the firing pins of the Pistons offense, the two guys most capable of creating something from chaos.

But there is no play design or selection that would produce offense at the level the Pistons need to win enough to get to the playoffs – or to be a legitimate threat to make noise should they get there – with the way Harris and Jackson have played since the calendar flipped to December.

If there’s anything other than “just one of those things” behind it, Van Gundy is groping to find the answers.

“It’s what we’re trying to figure out,” he said after Thursday’s practice on the Dallas Mavericks practice court about 12 hours after losing soundly to an 8-23 team – a game in which the Pistons both gave up the most points they’d allowed in any quarter (43) and scored the least in any quarter (13) this season.

“Is there anything we can do – I can do – coaching wise? Because they’re both struggling. I think a lot of it is they’ve just got to get out of their heads.”

As in stop thinking so much about where shots and points will come from and play on instincts honed over a lifetime of basketball.

Both had miserable games against Dallas, Harris shooting 4 of 16 and Jackson 3 of 9. A combined 16 points on 25 shots from your two top offensive players is a formula for a bad loss.

While Harris appeared to become overly aggressive and wound up taking “bad shots,” as Van Gundy said, Jackson became passive. Both results are possible in Van Gundy’s experience when players deal with downturns in productivity.

“I thought Tobias last night – and I thought Ish (Smith) had been doing it before – they’re sort of trying to get themselves going and you end up forcing more shots and your percentages go down and down. Now you start deciding, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get a shot’ or ‘I’ve got to get more shots,’ or even the other way, ‘I’ve got to slow down.’

“You’re all screwed up. You’ve got to get back and it’s a hard thing. It’s an easy thing to say, but it’s hard for players. They’ve got to deal with it and just free up their mind to play.”

Through the end of November, Harris was averaging 19.1 points on .474 shooting and .467 from the 3-point arc. In 11 December games, those numbers have plunged to 14.7, .401 and .359. Jackson’s numbers through November were 15.8 points and 5.9 assists against 2.4 turnovers on .469 shooting and .390 3-point shooting. His December numbers: 13.6 points, 3.7 assists and 2.8 turnovers on .426 and .293 shooting.

Harris isn’t getting quite the same quality of 3-point attempt of late, Van Gundy said.

“Some of them have been a little deeper and, as you would expect, more contested.”

Van Gundy consistently urges Jackson to be aggressive in attacking the rim, but he’s seen less and less of that during his December skid. It was especially noticeable at Dallas.

“I thought last night he had four or five chances to turn the corner that he didn’t take advantage of,” Van Gundy said. “I think Reggie’s at his best when he’s in attack mode and then taking his jump shots as they present themselves. When he’s thinking jump shot first, I don’t think he’s nearly as hard to guard as when he’s in attack mode.”

Jackson admitted to the challenge of adjusting to a more diverse offense, one less reliant on his pick and rolls with Andre Drummond, earlier in the season. But his production was better then. Van Gundy tried calling more pick and rolls for Jackson against Dallas when the offense ran up on the rocks, but that didn’t produce the desired results, either.

“I don’t know – tired, whatever it was. But he was not in attack frame of mind.”

When the Pistons lost their seventh straight game last week to Denver and scored just 84 points two days after scoring 81 in losing to Boston, Van Gundy tinkered with the offense and saw immediate results in consecutive wins over Atlanta, Indiana and Orlando as the Pistons averaged 107.7.

“We had streamlined some things and I thought, overall, it was better,” he said. “But it’s back and forth.”

And all of it avoids the elephant in the room.

“It’s really not going to be good or look good or produce if we don’t get Reggie and Tobias playing,” he said. “It’s just not. We’ve got no way to play around both of those guys struggling. So we’ve got to get them back playing. That’s the priority right now.”

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