Timelines for Pistons, Frank Jackson intersect – ‘I think my ceiling is super high’

Frank Jackson
Frank Jackson, still just 22, believes the Pistons are the place where he’ll realize his potential and blossom in the NBA
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Josh Jackson isn’t the only young player the Pistons think is on the brink of reminding everyone why he was once considered among the best young basketball players in America. He’s not even the only Piston with the surname “Jackson” who fits that description.

Frank Jackson was ranked the No. 14 recruit in America in the high school class of 2016 – the same one in which Josh Jackson was considered the nation’s No. 1 prospect.

They each went to a blueblood college program – Kansas for Josh, Duke for Frank. They each entered the 2017 NBA draft after one year on campus. And they’ve both ended up in Detroit less than four years later attempting to find a foothold on paths to stardom that once seemed preordained.

Why it didn’t work out in their previous NBA stops isn’t for the Pistons to ignore – surely, it matters – but isn’t for them to dwell on, either. Ground shifts constantly and suddenly in the NBA and circumstances are always in flux for both franchises and individuals. For now, the timing for both Jacksons and the Pistons lines up – a franchise in transition offering opportunity for two players whose basketball instincts might be ready to catch up to their prodigious athletic ability.

And, make no mistake, Frank Jackson’s athletic gifts are on par with Josh Jackson’s – Josh as a 6-foot-8 wing, Frank as a 6-foot-3 guard.

“He’s got a lot of juice,” Dwane Casey said Tuesday after Jackson made his Pistons debut over the weekend in games with Phoenix and Utah. “He’s as quick as a cat.”

Jackson’s athletic ability caused his prospect stock to soar in the summer after his junior year of high school in Utah. Then committed to home-state BYU, Jackson reopened his recruitment as options multiplied and ultimately became part of a loaded Duke class that included three other five stars including Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles.

At the 2017 NBA draft combine, Jackson validated his reputation as an elite athlete with test results that included a 42-inch vertical leap and top marks in shuttle and sprint times while also measuring in with a 6-foot-7½ wingspan.

A foot injury sidelined Jackson for all of 2017-18 after he was picked 31st – the first pick of the second round – by New Orleans in a draft-day trade with Charlotte. He flashed his potential as a Pelicans rookie for a team that lived with the daily drama of Anthony Davis’ trade demand, starting 16 games and averaging 8.1 points. His playing time diminished from 19 minutes to 13 minutes a game last season and Jackson, caught in a numbers crunch for a franchise awash in draft picks, found himself looking for a team in free agency. After Jackson was waived by Oklahoma City on the eve of the season, the Pistons – who’d kept an open two-way spot for just such an opportunity – picked him up after Christmas.

Jackson – at 22, one of nine players 23 or younger among the 17-man roster – feels he’s in a place where his timeline and his team’s matches.

“One hundred percent,” he said Tuesday. “I think from day one, that was the message – to come here and take my intensity and keep getting better every single day and just make sure you’re doing the right things.”

Perhaps one reason Jackson has been perceived as falling short of expectations is trying to make a round peg fit into a square hole. Though a player who can create his own shot, Jackson is less a point guard than a scorer and Casey is fine with that.

“He’s a two-one. He’s not really a one,” Casey said. “Unfortunately, we stuck him there with Derrick (Rose) being out. He can tread water at the point guard position, but he’s not truly a one. He’s a guy who can go get his shot, can shoot the three, can defend.”

There are certainly roles – big ones, if they do those things at a high level – for players who fit that description. Rose’s greatest strength is his ability to create his own shot.

“It’s really cool to be around someone with as much knowledge and experience,” Jackson said of being teammates with Rose. “I’ve looked up to him since forever. It’s unreal being around him. I didn’t realize how great a leader he was. He really brings this squad together, gets guys fired up and leads by example, as well.”

Jackson played with another player in New Orleans who can serve as a role model for his path to success, Jrue Holiday.

“Jrue’s become a big brother to me on the court and off the court,” Jackson said. “He’s become one of my really close friends. Another guy who leads by example, does all the right things, really looks out and cares for his teammates. He’s a tremendous athlete, too. I’ve been lucky to work out with him in summers and be around him to see him become the beast he is.”

The Pistons are invested in 19-year-old Killian Hayes as their point guard of the future, though the hip injury Hayes suffered last week creates playing time for others in the present. They also see second-round pick Saben Lee, 21, as being part of the point guard puzzle. Jackson’s future might be running alongside those two more so than competing with them for minutes.

“I think I’ve been able to play both and grow in both positions,” he said. “I was used to having the ball in my hands growing up. I’ve learned how to play off the ball now and kind of getting into the offense. I think now I’m in a position where I can extend that. I think my ceiling is super high.”

Casey had great success with young players like Jackson in Toronto – players who weren’t drafted in the lottery and needed development in one or two critical areas to allow their strengths to be put into use. Jackson sees himself on a similar course in the short time he’s been with the Pistons.

“It’s been good so far. Honestly, I think every day I’ve made progress,” he said. “I love playing for coach Casey so far. I’m excited to keep moving forward and try to get better every day.”

“He’s bounced around,” Casey said. “Whatever the reasons are, numbers – not important. But he’s a guy who can get his own shot and has a lot of juice. He’s quick, he’s a tough kid and he’s a great kid. All those are things he brings to the table. And he fits the timeline.”

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