Pistons guard Josh Jackson’s role proves critical coming off the bench

Detroit News

Rod Beard | The Detroit News

When looking at the Pistons’ lineup needs, the easy thing in bringing in Josh Jackson would have been to put him in the starting lineup.

Early in the season, that was the first plan of action. After Jackson came off the bench for the first two games, he moved into the starting lineup for four games before he sustained a minor ankle injury that sidelined him for two games.

He wasn’t the same after that, with only five and two points in his next two games. Jackson went back to his backup role, and he’s flourished there since. In the 22 games since, he’s averaged 14 points and 4.7 rebounds.

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More importantly, though, he’s logged about 26 minutes per game, getting more playing time than some of the starters. Even though he’s not a starter, his role is just as important.

“That’s one of the reasons we have him in that situation. Josh could probably start for a lot of teams — and our team here,” coach Dwane Casey said. “For the role he has with us, (being a reserve) is no disrespect to him. He’s in a valuable role for us coming off the bench as a second-unit scorer as well as a second-unit defender.”

Jackson’s two-way ability is one of his most valuable assets, as he can guard the opposing team’s best scorer for long stretches, and he can be finish games when needed, because of his defensive ability.

Wayne Ellington has been in the starting unit for much of the season, but in the month of February, Ellington has played more than 24 minutes just once (at Memphis). That coincided with Ellington’s hot shooting streak in late-January when he averaged 16.5 points over an eight-game span.

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There wasn’t a way around playing Ellington for heavy minutes. Ellington’s prolific offense outweighed any defensive deficiencies, but when he cooled off, Jackson became a more versatile option, especially on the defensive end.

For many players, the difference between starting or coming off the bench can be a critical difference and they base much of their identity on that distinction. For others, it’s about quality minutes and the impact they can make in the time they’re on the court.

“Unless you’re just into hearing your name and seeing your picture on the video up there and hearing the crowd cheering for you a little bit,” Casey said. “Other than that, it’s (not a big deal). The most important thing is the closing group, the team that’s in there defensively and offensively to close the game.”

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The impact for Jackson, who is looking to make a new home after playing short stints with the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies over his first three seasons is the goal.

That appears to be his best opportunity to fit with the Pistons, at least in the short term. He’s been fitting in well with the second group, as the go-to scorer and a tenacious two-way option.

More: Pistons’ backup point guard situation appears to show promise

“Some of the minutes (Jackson’s) got to go against some of the top stars in the league,” Casey said. “He’s done a good job in that role and is very valuable to a playoff/championship type team and that’s what we’re trying to build here.”

Bey’s back

Saddiq Bey, who sustained a left ankle sprain in Wednesday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans, returned to the lineup. He was limited in the fourth quarter and was listed as questionable on the injury report.

Bey has been durable this season, missing just one game since the season opener. Since joining the starting lineup, he’s been solid, posting 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds and shooting 38% from beyond the arc.

Rising Stars recognized

Although there won’t be a Rising Stars game this season during All-Star weekend, the NBA announced that it still will announce the rosters. The game, which features first- and second-year players to form U.S. and World teams, normally is played on the Friday before the All-Star Game.

This year’s All-Star Game, which will be in Atlanta on March 7, will be scaled back, with fewer participants than the full weekend slate.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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