The Josh Jackson Reclamation Project is looking good, but it can look even better

Detroit Bad Boys

On NBA Draft night in 2017, many Detroit Pistons fans were left feeling bitter seeing another local kid taking his potential out of Michigan to shine the desert sun when Josh Jackson was selected fourth overall by the Phoenix Suns. This is two years after Grand Rapids native Devin Booker landed in Phoenix to explode into one of the brightest young NBA players.

But Josh couldn’t didn’t find the Soutwest very inviting after spending from 8 months until his late teens in Michigan. He just couldn’t acclimate in Arizona or to NBA life. The shots didn’t fall, turnovers mounted, his defense didn’t work and the frustration grew. Finally, he fell into hot water of personal problems and subsequently was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies for the final year of his rookie deal. The Grizzlies sent him to their G League affiliate and used him only a little at the end of last season. Josh took this humbling experience as a growth opportunity and registered a good season in which he showed that he can be efficient scorer at a professional level.

This coincided with Pistons hiring new GM in Troy Weaver who apparently has inclination to invest into young players who were regarded as high prospects but didn’t live so far to that promise in their NBA careers. And, thus, Josh has landed in Detroit which hope that his “homecoming portends his ascension.”

At this stage of the season, we can say that half of the task is behind us. Statistically, Jackson is showing that he belongs in the best basketball league in the universe, being more or less average in general categories like PIE (49 percentile) and NETRTG (52,5 percentile). However, when you look at him playing, you often get the impression that he’s much more than an average NBA player.

For example on these drives, we can see how easy it’s for him to take his man off the dribble, to adjust in the air and to score with either hand using his ‘fluid athleticism’ and skills.

Altogether, all those things contribute into his above average efficiency from the closest distance (65.9 FG% in restricted area).

The Pistons wing is also above average in cuts (75.8 percentile).

Here again his ‘fluid athleticism’ plays important role. It allows him decisively to take advantage of all holes and mistakes in opponents defenses.

Josh also shows elite traits beyond the arc. As the film shows, he can do it all there, making off the dribble, off movement and off catch triples in half court and in transition.

His efficiency doesn’t look so good overall yet (32.2 3P%), but since the last game from January it looks elite (40.5%).

Jackson also is better than average as facilitator. His 13.9 AST% puts him in 58.2 percentile. As we can see on the film, he can find a teammate in great position to score both on perimeter and inside.

And he’s elite in making opponents send him to the free-throw line.

With a 32.1 free-throw rate, he lands at 77.9 percentile in that category. What make it even better is that he lingers in the neighborhood of his best free-throw shooting year, converting around 69.4% of his attempts.

All those things would provide a solid basis to put the former fourth overall pick in the ranks of at least very good NBA wings offensively. However, the thing is that they’re interwoven with other things that drag him down. His FG% in the paint non-restricted area is very underwhelming (29.3%). So is his FG% from midrange (33.3%). According to current standards, he doesn’t shoot too much from these areas (23.4% of all his shots). But it still impacts his efficiency. To remedy this, Jackson needs to play to his strengths and avoid taking these kind of ill-advised shots and confine only to those in which he’s able to put defender fully at disadvantage.

Josh’s bad shots

Josh’s shots well taken

Another problem — turnovers. Josh has the tendency to make sloppy passes and dribble himself into trouble.

Josh’s bad passes

Josh’s bad dribble

His good AST% is thus undermined to significant degree by very poor AST/TO ratio of 0.83. Here, it seems, the proper solution would be to put him in a little more structured and capable offense, at least until he learns to make better decisions with the ball, choosing to attack off the dribble when there’s space for this and pass when the passing lanes are more open, like here.

Once he’d get rid of those bad habits, he could really flourish in Dwane Casey’s more open offense and easily surpass the 18 PPG he averages in his last eight games which now come at the expense of larger number of turnovers (3.4).

This ambivalent state of affairs repeats on the defensive end. We’re already used to and love Josh’s spectacular stops like these swats.

We also can’t help but love his activity in passing lanes.

His 1.8 stocks per game looks very good, and he’s close to being in the first third of the League in deflections with 2.5 of them per 36 minutes, as well.

Jackson also belongs to the narrow elite in isolation defense (allowing only 0.46 PPP in this type of plays what puts him in 94.8 percentile) and off screen defense (allowing only 0.54 PPP what puts him in 91.4 percentile). The film doesn’t left any doubts, he truly can be a nightmare one-on-one and off-ball defender.

Josh’s on-ball D

Josh’s off-ball D

He also rebounds the ball well under defended basket (53.3 percentile).

But there is more thorny half of that picture. He’s in 28.6 percentile in P&R defense. And it really shows.

In fact, it really is a feast or famine experience, driven largely around whether he and his teammates are communicating or not. In the first clip, there’s complete lack of communication between Jackson and his teammates. And when there is, it’s marked by lack of comprehension. However, it shouldn’t be a problem for long, for all Pistons players talk (and walk) the defense sooner or later fluently. More worrisome are the mistakes like these bad stance, gamble, bad positioning and lack of awareness.

They’ll require the young wing to become more disciplined, focused and to pay attention to details. The more discipline will be also needed to solve the biggest Josh problem on defense. At the moment unfortunately he’s elite also in committing fouls.

His 4.4 fouls per 36 minutes put him in 83,6 percentile. If Josh won’t change it, not only his defensive but also his offensive contribution can be in jeopardy.

It seems that Josh Jackson coming home really benefited him. But there is still some “ascension” that we’d like to follow it. If he and his new coaches put the work, Josh might finally become what he promised to be when he left Michigan as a teenager.

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