Josh Jackson heading home, as Detroit Pistons to sign ex-lottery pick in NBA free agency

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

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In July 2019, the Memphis Grizzlies acquired Josh Jackson, the fourth pick of the 2017 draft, in a trade with the Phoenix Suns. 

Two months later, the Grizzlies assigned Jackson to their G League affiliate in  a rare move for a top-five pick. A month later, they declined to pick up his fourth-year option, making him an unrestricted free agent in 2020.  

Memphis wanted Jackson, who underwhelmed on the court and got in trouble off of it during his two seasons in Phoenix, to prove himself. Negative headlines defined his time with the Suns. Despite possessing great athleticism and upside as a 6-foot-8 wing, he struggled to string together consistent performances. He also was fined by the Suns on multiple occasions for violations of team rules and had legal issues, including an arrest at a Florida music festival.

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The Grizzlies came up with a special program for Jackson, which included him spending several months in the G League until he hit a series of benchmarks. They assigned him a mentor as well, as Grizzlies great Tony Allen called or texted Jackson after every game. 

Jackson excelled in the G League, emerging as one of the Memphis Hustle’s best players on both ends of the floor. The Grizzlies called him up permanently in January. Eventually, he cracked the rotation and proved there’s a place for him in the NBA, after all. 

Now, the Detroit native is returning home. The Pistons will be signing Jackson, according to ESPN, bringing unrealized potential to a franchise that remade itself by the hour during Friday’s free agency negotiating period.

The Pistons reached deals with four players Friday in centers Mason Plumlee and Jahlil Okaforforward Jerami Grant and Jackson. Free agents can begin signing their new deals at noon Sunday.

In 22 games with the Grizzlies last season, Jackson averaged nine points, three rebounds and 1.6 assists. But numbers don’t tell the full story of his journey, or impact, in Memphis. 

He averaged 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.5 blocks in 26 games with the Hustle. From his first game, it was clear that he was overqualified for the assignment from a talent standpoint.

But he wasn’t assigned to the Hustle because of his talent. He was assigned to find balance between basketball and his personal life. 

He managed to stay out of trouble during his G League assignment, with the exception of receiving a two-game suspension for being late to a team meeting. As a whole, he accomplished what the Grizzlies wanted. 

Memphis called him up on Jan. 27, after a hip injury to Grayson Allen created room in the rotation. 

“As we got to know Josh more and more, one, he did literally everything that we asked of him and he did it happily,” Grizzlies vice president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman said at the time. “Josh has bought in and Josh has been excited to grow with the group. He did a great job forming bonds with guys on the Hustle. We’d always hoped that that would get to a point where we would end up calling up Josh to the Grizzlies. We’re happy that he’s with the Grizzlies now.”

It took time for Jackson to hit his stride. But he eventually did. After the All-Star break, he averaged 13.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.7 blocks on 47-37-65 shooting splits. He was even better in March — 16.6 points, 2.8 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals and one block in 20.9 minutes per game while hitting 38% of his 3-pointers.

The Pistons are getting a wing who can do a little bit of everything. Jackson competes on defense, is a good passer for his size and shot well in a small sample size last season. 

“I feel like I’m quite versatile,” Jackson said in February, following a Grizzlies practice. “I can guard multiple positions. I’m not really great at any one thing, but I’m pretty good at about everything, if you know what I mean. Wherever you put me, I’m going to find something I can do, whether that’s rebounding, playing defense, just making an occasional open 3 or passing it. I’m going to figure out some way to impact the game.”

As the Pistons continue to wheel-and-deal, it isn’t yet clear how Jackson fits into the rotation. But he can play multiple positions and fits Weaver’s vision for the roster as a long-armed defender. Opponents scored 1.4 fewer points per possession when Jackson was on the floor for the Grizzlies, according the Cleaning The Glass, the NBA analytics website. 

Jackson’s local ties are a bonus. He starred as a freshman and sophomore at Consortium College Prep in Detroit, leading the team to its first state title in his second year, before his family moved to California.

If there are any concerns about how well Jackson will buy into the Pistons’ rebuild, Tony Allen can lay them to rest: 

“He’s not one of them guys who get stubborn and doesn’t want to hear it,” Allen said. “He takes it. And when he gets the message, it carries over on the execution side in live play.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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