The Detroit Pistons’ roster largely falls into two groups. Eight players on the team have fewer than three full years of experience and are 22 years old or younger. They’re in show-and-prove mode.
Then there are the veterans — players such as Jerami Grant, who stepped into a leading role in the seventh season of his career. Or Wayne Ellington, a career journeyman embracing locker room leadership while filling an important role as a shooter.
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Josh Jackson doesn’t fit neatly into either box. In his fourth season, he’s still looking to establish himself as someone destined for a long NBA career. He didn’t live up to being the 2017 fourth overall pick with the Phoenix Suns, the team that drafted him. He spent much of last season in the G League before the Memphis Grizzlies called him up during the back half of the season.
But Jackson, 24, feels like a veteran as well, he said with a smile Thursday after leading all players with 29 points during a road loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
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“My body is not the same as it was when I was 20 years old, so definitely gotta take care of yourself in this league,” he said. “Helps you play as long as you possibly can. You gotta eat right, stretch, work out, lift. Yeah, my body’s taking a little bit of a toll but I feel like I’m having fun.”
Thursday was certainly a veteran game for Jackson, who is having his most efficient month as a scorer since he signed with the Pistons last November. All of Detroit’s players older than 26, along with 23-year-old Dennis Smith Jr., missed the game for injury or rest. Jackson was the oldest player in the starting lineup, and the second-oldest player, behind Jahlil Okafor, to appear in the game for the Pistons.
When Grant is out, Jackson becomes more of a priority on offense for the Pistons, Dwane Casey said after the game. That was evident, as Jackson hit his first five shots — including a well-executed stepback 3-pointer with Rudy Gay defending him — and outscored his teammates by a 14-11 margin in the first quarter.
It was the latest of what’s been a month of strong performances for Jackson. He is one of Detroit’s best scorers since putting up a season-high 31 points April 1. In 13 April games, he’s averaging 17.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists on 47.7% overall shooting and 42.9% shooting from behind the arc. His April true shooting percentage of 57.8% is his best of any month this season, not counting the four games he played in December.
Jackson’s outburst this month was preceded by a slump. He shot just 36.7% overall and 17.9% from 3 in March, and was a healthy scratch March 29. He hasn’t missed a game since, though.
His 31-point scoring outburst April 1 was a turning point, Jackson said, and he’s more comfortable now than he has been at any point this season. But he still gets tunnel vision and has bad turnovers occasionally, which he acknowledged after the game.
“Just coming out and hitting the shots that I normally hit, it just gave me more confidence to get to those spots and be able to shoot those shots all the time,” Jackson said. “Sometimes you battle with yourself mentally, but I feel like that part is over.”
It’s been an up-and-down season for Jackson, but the Detroit native is finishing strong. Jackson’s found his groove as a two-way wing who can thrive as either a primary or secondary scorer. He’s embraced the former lately with Grant missing six of the last nine games.
“In games like this with all of the young players, he’s the veteran of the group,” Casey said. “He’s getting the job done in those situations and scoring. His role somewhat changes once Jerami comes back and the other guys come back. With this group, he’s kind of the go-to guy. And gotta find his spots when those other guys are back in.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.