In return home to Pistons, Josh Jackson has chance to unlock potential

Detroit News

Rod Beard
| The Detroit News

Just looking at Josh Jackson, one would presume from his baby-faced features that he is just beginning to get his feet wet in the NBA.

A glance at Jackson’s basketball dossier defies that thought, showing the 23-year-old wing has three years in the league and two stops, in Phoenix and Memphis, since he was a heralded No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 draft.

Jackson signed with the Pistons in free agency, adding another stamp to his NBA passport. This time, though, the hope is that coming back home, where he starred at Detroit Consortium and helped win a state championship, can be more of a destination than a stop.

“It means a lot to me to be a part of this organization. I’m from the Detroit area and grew up a Pistons fan,” Jackson said Wednesday at his introductory teleconference. “I grew up going to Pistons games all my life, really around the time where they were really good, so I’m here with a mindset of just getting back to that, back to those games that I used to watch as a kid, and just winning games in my home city.”

It’s fitting that the road leads back to where Jackson grew up and spent some of his formative years. The years with the Suns and Grizzlies showed him that there’s more to the NBA than just basketball.

In his first two seasons, Jackson was making a mark on the court, posting career-highs of 13.1 points and 4.6 rebounds and earning second-team all-rookie honors. He followed with a down season with just 11.5 points and 4.4 rebounds in his second year.

There were some off-court issues, including a run-in with police during a music festival in Miami in May 2019. He was charged with resisting arrest and escaping police, but one of the charges was later dropped.

Jackson also made headlines when his former girlfriend accused him of using marijuana around their daughter, who was seven months old at the time. Those incidents helped lead to a trade to the Grizzlies in July 2019.

He was assigned to the Memphis Hustle in the Gatorade League, in an attempt to help him get a better handle on his personal life and off-court problems. His production wasn’t in question, as he dominated with 20.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 38% on 3-pointers.

Basketball never has been a problem for Jackson; it’s blending everything else together.

Playing for the Memphis Hustle in Southaven, Mississippi, was a lot different than the NBA spotlight and all the trappings that come with life as a 23-year-old in the league.

It’s just part of the ups and downs of basketball and piecing the puzzle together. That time in the G League gave him valuable perspective on the importance of maintaining that balance.

“What I’m seeing from that season most was probably just to take your time with it. You don’t have to rush the grind; it takes a while to get to where you want to be,” Jackson said. “Nothing that’s worth having really comes easy. I had to do a lot of things that I didn’t want to do, necessarily, and I just remembered that it was all going be worth it at the end of the day.

“God had a plan for me. I wanted to look out for my family, so I just kept my head down and kept working.”

A lot to prove

When Jackson speaks, the maturity he’s been forced to gain in his short time in the league belies the babyface. He’s getting a new basketball lifeline from Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, who isn’t viewing it as a reclamation project, but as a worthy gamble on a talented young wing who still has plenty left.

“I did talk to Troy a little bit right when free agency opened, and right from the beginning, I just felt that he believed in me as a player, just as much as I believed in myself,” Jackson said. “He also just like me feels that I have a lot to prove, so I feel like, just from the beginning, we just had an understanding of each other, and it felt right to me, so it was really easy for me to make that decision.”

It’s not just a commitment by Weaver, but also by head coach Dwane Casey. In Jackson’s short career, he’s had five different coaches: Earl Watson, Jay Triano, Igor Kokoskov and Monty Williams in Phoenix and Taylor Jenkins in Memphis, as well as Glynn Cyprien with the Memphis Hustle.

Consistency could help provide stability for Jackson, and with Casey’s steady influence, it could help unlock Jackson’s potential. It worked well last season with Christian Wood, who had many of the same question marks as Jackson.

“If you took Josh’s name off and put Christian Wood’s name on there, it’s the same thing everyone was saying: ‘Dwane, don’t mess with him; leave him alone,’” Casey said this week. “I guess it’s something that I enjoy, with people who have a chip on their shoulders and been almost forgotten about in our league — not saying Josh has been. 

“We’re all imperfect people and to say you don’t want to give a young man like Josh (a chance), I don’t look at Josh as anything other than a basketball player. I’ve seen the reputations, all that and perceptions. I look at him as a basketball player, as I did Christian.

“If a young man — whoever it is — comes in and does what he’s supposed to do, goes by the team rules, plays his behind off and produces on the court, he’s going to play. That’s the way I look at Josh, and again some guys just need an opportunity.”

For Jackson, a homecoming can bring its own set of concerns, with friends, family and other familiarities coming back into the picture.

Given what he’s learned in three seasons, Jackson is looking at this as a chance for redemption.

“I’m just looking at it like there’s nowhere else for me to go but up. I’ve been to my lowest point and I’ve been moving in the right direction,” Jackson said. “I’m just trying to keep on that path. As long as I’m going up, I’m happy.”

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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