Is Reggie Jackson the Reason for the Recent Struggles of the Detroit Pistons?

The Pistons were 11-10 before Reggie Jackson returned from injury and have been 3-6 since. What gives?

The Detroit Pistons are reeling, losing six of their last nine games after starting the season a respectable 11-10.

Now sitting at 14-16 and coming off three blowout losses, there's a lot of finger pointing going on in the Motor City.

Backup center Aron Baynes called a players-only meeting on the weekend after a 15-point loss to the Indiana Pacers, and the Pistons followed that up with a 31-point drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Bulls on Monday night.

In the words of Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, "Team meeting, my ass."

Most of the blame for the Pistons' fall from grace has landed on the shoulders of Reggie Jackson because Detroit's recent downturn coincides almost directly with his return from a 21-game absence to start the season due to thumb and knee injuries.

Looking at the numbers, there's no real trouble to at least draw a line of correlation between the two, if not one of direct cause and effect:

CategoryWithout Reggie Jackson (Rank)With Reggie Jackson (Rank)
Games played219
Win-Loss Percentage.524 (15th).333 (22nd)
Offensive Rating103.5 (16th)100.2 (27th)
Defensive Rating101.1 (5th)106.2 (15th)
Net Rating2.4 (10th)-6.0 (26th)

The Pistons have dropped over 10 spots in the rankings for both offensive and defensive efficiency since Jackson's return, while plummeting from 10th to 26th in overall efficiency.

And while one could argue that there are plenty of other players that could've gone cold or been underperforming over that recent stretch, the on/off numbers are particularly damning of Jackson's performance as well.

With a -11.1 net rating (98.9 offensive rating, 110.1 defensive rating) in his 231 minutes of floor time, R-Jax has the worst on-court mark on the whole team. Meanwhile, in his 1,209 minutes off the court, the Pistons have had a much better net rating of 2.0 (103.2 offensive rating, 101.2 defensive rating). That monstrous gap of 13.1 points scored minus points allowed per 100 possessions is the biggest on/off differential on the team.

And the drop-offs in efficiency happen pretty well across the board in that split:

Reggie Jackson Off49.3%95.9854.7%11.9%1.8750.7%
Reggie Jackson On48.6%92.6048.0%13.4%1.3849.1%

The Pistons are essentially shooting the ball better, spreading it around more, turning it over less, and even grabbing more available rebounds when Jackson is off the floor, compared to when he's been on it. They've also played at a significantly faster pace without Jackson.

To that point, Jackson leads the league in average seconds per touch at 5.86 and is fourth in dribbles per touch at 5.99. His 63.1 touches per game is reasonable for a starting point guard (it's essentially at a Tony Parker level), but his average time of possession of 6.2 minutes per game is high. That number puts him in the top-20 in time of possession in the league, despite the fact that he has played only 25.7 minutes per contest since his return, compared to the 30 to 35 minutes per game that everyone else near the top of that list has been playing.

In fact, Reggie's 6.2 minutes of possession per game is even higher than LeBron James and his 6.0. There's perhaps no better illustration of how Jackson is stopping the ball dead in Detroit than the fact that LeBron averages 11.1 more minutes played and 23.8 more touches per game than Jackson, yet still trails him in time of possession per game.

Detroit's schedule isn't getting any easier over the next few weeks, and Van Gundy has officially seen enough of his current starting five of Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, and Andre Drummond. He guaranteed that we'd see a new starting lineup on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies and one can't help but at least wonder if bringing Jackson off the bench might be the best option.

Looking at the numbers for the starting five with Jackson as compared to the same unit with Ishmael Smith running the point from earlier this season, it would be hard not to at least consider it:

LineupMINOff RtgDef RtgNet RtgeFG%PaceAST%AST/TOREB%
Smith, Caldewell-Pope,
Morris, Harris, Drummond
Jackson, Caldewell-Pope,
Morris, Harris, Drummond

It is, of course, unlikely that the Pistons will bench Jackson as one of the team's highest-paid players and building blocks for the future, but it might not be the worst move to make at this point, if the above table is any indication.

In the long run, however, it is important to keep in mind that the Pistons still have plenty of time to figure this all out.

Nine games of Reggie Jackson after his coming back from a 21-game, injury-induced absence is admittedly a small, less-than-perfect sample size to draw from. The Pistons are only 1.5 games out of the 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, and our power rankings still see them as the 11th-best team in the league (6th in the East) going forward. Further, our algorithms are still giving them fairly comfortable 67.7% odds to make the postseason.

Reggie Jackson might even eventually be the one to turn the Pistons' fortunes around, but for now, the numbers suggest that he just might be the cause of their recent woes.