Should Reggie Jackson or Brandon Jennings Start for the Detroit Pistons?
After starting just 10 games before heading to Detroit, Jackson started all 27 games he played for the Pistons. With both Jennings and Jackson on the roster for the upcoming season, the Pistons are tasked with a tough decision of which guard should start.
Jennings recently said he'd be okay with a bench role, but is that the best place for him? Let's take a look.
When we last saw the Pistons, Jackson was running the floor. In the 27 games he played with Detroit, he averaged 17.6 points. He proved himself to be much better than his previous job of backing up Russell Westbrook. With increased minutes, Jackson averaged almost five more points per game and over three points more per 36 minutes.
Despite overall mediocre efficiency numbers, Jackson proved himself to be one of the most efficient, as well as most prolific, drivers in the game.
With Detroit, Jackson shot 46.4% from the field on his 13.0 drives per game (second only to Ishmael Smith's 13.5 per game). Jackson ranked fifth in the league in points per game on drives (7.3 points), (the short list of players above him consists of LeBron James, James Harden, Tony Wroten and Westbrook). None of them topped 8.1 points per game on drives to the basket.
If you factor in his passing, which I'll expand more on later, Jackson was number-one in the league in team points per game on drives, per NBA.com, by more than a full point (15.6 points per game compared to Harden's second-place mark of 14.3).
Overall, Jackson was able to get closer to the basket on his shots than he did in Oklahoma City. While on the Thunder, 48% of his shots came from outside 16 feet. He cut that down to 32% with the Pistons. And yet despite his tendency to take closer shots in Detroit, he still was unable to increase overall shooting efficiency; his shooting percentage continued to hover around 43% with both clubs.
Before his January injury, Jennings was averaging 15.4 points per game, a career low. Yet, because Jennings played his fewest minutes per game of his career, his per 36 scoring numbers were the second best in his six year career. He had his second most efficient season to date. But that doesn't mean all that much: his field goal percentage was still just barely over 40%.
He did, however, finish with an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 47.1%, right around Jackson's number. This was due in large part to his success behind the arc (36%, better than Jackson's 30%) and his free throw shooting (84%, a career high).
Not exactly known for being great passers, Jennings and Jackson are, surprisingly, the only two players since 2012 to dish out 20 assists in one game, a feat that both of them accomplished last year about two months apart. For their careers, Jennings holds the per 36 advantage, averaging 6.6 to Jackson’s 5.9, but after last season, it appears that Jackson is the much better passer.
Jackson’s passing ability as a whole reached an elite level in Detroit. His assists per game with the Pistons placed him at fourth in the league. Among all players who played at least 25 games with a given team last year, only Chris Paul ranked above him in terms of points created by assists per 48 minutes (32.7 to 31.5), according to NBA.com.
He assisted over 51% of all his teammates’ shots while he was on the floor. To put that in perspective, Paul, who lead the league in assists last year, assisted just 47% of his teammates’ shots. To be fair, Jennings was no slouch either, assisting 40% of his teammates’ field goals, but Jackson still holds the advantage at passing.
Despite compiling a win percentage of just .370 when Jackson started, the Pistons were better with Jackson. When he was on the floor, the Pistons had an Offensive Rating of 112. With Jackson on the bench, the team had an Offensive Rating of just 99.2 and shot a full five percentage points worse.
A similar trend can be found with Jennings, yet it’s nowhere near as obvious as it was with Jackson. Looking at the months in which Jennings was healthy, the team had an Offensive Rating of 106.7 with him on the floor and 101.7 with him on the bench.
Both players remain subpar defensive players with Defensive Ratings higher than 108 and with negative Defensive Plus/Minus scores.
Jennings holds the advantage in most advanced statistics, PER (19.7 to 17.2), Win Shares per 48 (.136 to 104), Box Plus Minus (1.8 to 0.8), and even VORP (1.1 to 1.0), which is all the more impressive considering Jennings played more than 1,000 minutes fewer than Jackson did.
Our own in-house statistic, nERD, which indicates how many wins above or below .500 a player would make an average team during a full season, also favors Jennings. He finished the season with a nERD of 1.2, while Jackson was at -0.4.
The advanced numbers seem to point to Jennings, but the statistics even out a bit more when looking at Jackson after he was acquired by Detroit. His PER jumped to 19.8, his Win Shares per 48 rose to .110, and his Box Plus Minus surpassed Jennings with a BPM of 2.6.
A Two-Point Guard lineup?
A third option for van Gundy to consider is starting both Jennings and Jackson. As backup to Russell Westbrook, Jackson did see a fair amount of time in two point guard lineups. He was actually much more effective than when he was the lone point guard on the court.
With both point guards on the floor, Jackson's points per possession shot up to 1.15 compared with .98 when Westbrook wasn't playing. Similarly his Effective Field Goal Percentage of 56.1% dropped precipitously to 49.4%. However, it must be noted that his assist rate per 100 possessions was nearly cut in half.
So while Jennings and Westbrook are different players, Jackson has shown he can coexist with another point guard, and even if van Gundy doesn't start both at once, it's a promising sign that the two may be able to play with each other on the court.
Even though Jennings was the starting point guard before he got hurt, he still often played minutes that looked closer to what a sixth man would play. He averaged just 28.6 minutes, the fewest of his career. Since his rookie season, he's never even dropped below 34 minutes per game.
Going into next season, Jennings will likely be the first man off the bench, playing similar minutes to what he averaged last year.
And Jackson, as a full-time starter, will finally get a chance to show that he's worth the money at which John Wall scoffed.