It hasn't been redemption for Reggie Jackson. He doesn't see it that way. His journey to Detroit after a rather unceremonious ending in Oklahoma City is an opportunity to show himself — and no one else — he can be a frontline NBA point guard.
Jackson, the former Boston College standout, led the Pistons' fourth-quarter rally and then punctuated the comeback with a couple of assists in a 105-97 overtime win over the Celtics at TD Garden on Sunday night.
He nearly finished with a triple-double with 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 11 assists in 37 minutes. With Brandon Jennings out for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon, Jackson has been allowed to be the floor leader, something he has craved but was not allowed to do in Oklahoma City.
That job was Russell Westbrook's, and while Jackson showed the ability to flourish offensively when Westbrook was out with knee issues, he never received the starting minutes he desired. Jackson is not short of confidence, and the trade to Detroit just before the deadline will allow him to prove he can orchestrate an offense by including his teammates.
In 15 games with the Pistons, Jackson is averaging 8.3 assists. He mostly looked to distribute Sunday, but took advantage of his chances to take the smaller Phil Pressey in crunch time. The most assists he averaged in any season with the Thunder was 4.3 in 50 games this season, so he is making a concerted effort to show he is not a score-only player.
Coach Stan Van Gundy has told Jackson not to worry about his contract — he's a restricted free agent this summer — and be concerned with developing into a point guard.
"He's making it easy," Jackson said of Van Gundy. "He's telling me to go play basketball, as a point guard you're the head of the snake and all 30 point guards in the league know that and it's kind of how you dictate the game and come out aggressively. He's been telling me to go be me, continue to work hard, get after it defensively and offensively, just try to attack and find easy shots for myself and for [my teammates]."
Jackson's time in Oklahoma City provided meaningful education, but the Thunder needed a defensive-minded shooting guard to complement Kevin Durant and Westbrook. Jackson's desire for playing time increased as he proved he could score with relative ease, and eventually the Thunder had to make a decision.
There was no way they were going to re-sign him this summer to a long-term deal, so they decided to add more appropriate pieces — D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler — and offer Jackson to the Pistons, a franchise that desperately needed scoring and star power.
Jackson wants to be a star, but he needed more of a showcase.
"Just being an ideal point guard," Jackson said when asked about the source of his recent struggles. "But I don't think anybody in the world knows what that is. I got all these people painting the picture of an ideal point guard. I understand we're trying to build something for the future and I want to silence all the naysayers, stop worrying what everybody else thinks.
"I tend not to care about what's out there anyway."
It's that stubbornness that has made Jackson a potential star in this league, but it also makes some consider him arrogant or headstrong. Jackson knows he can score, but at 6 feet 3 inches he lacks the size of a shooting guard and his ability to flourish in a pick-and-roll offense — something Detroit employs — makes him a perfect candidate to become a cornerstone, if he can handle the responsibility.
"When you come off that pick and roll, Andre [Drummond] is so much of a threat going to the rim and then you got three shooters around, so it makes it so much easier to have an understanding when to get to the rim and make a play," Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince said of Jackson. "He had some frustration with Greg [Monroe] and Andre, trying to figure out where both of those bigs would be. It's a different situation and I was talking to him about the situation in Memphis with Mike Conley [with two big men] and he knows where those guys are going to be at."
It's an education for Jackson. And the Pistons are hungry for immediate success after spending the past decade trying to repeat their success of the mid-2000s. Jackson is considered one of those players on whom Van Gundy can rely, but the added responsibility has been difficult to digest.
"I have a chance to do something special while I'm here," he said. "I'm definitely happy to be here, definitely happy to continue to try to help my teammates, expand my game and grow and figure who I could be in this league. Whenever I got my shot is when I was going to get my shot; I was just vocal about when I wanted my shot to be.
"Some people were mad about that. Some people understood where I was coming from. I'm a point guard but nobody knows what a point guard is. Everybody just throws it out there. It's the guy that's willing to make the right play. A lot goes into it and I feel like I can do it."