“People talk about me getting $80 million, now you got people getting $85 million that haven’t made the All-Star Game or anything like that. I guess they came in at the right time. The new CBA kicked in and they’re good now. Reggie Jackson gets five years, $80 million. I’m getting the same as Reggie Jackson.” - John Wall

Of all the contracts handed out this offseason, few raised more eyebrows than the one the Detroit Pistons gave Reggie Jackson. Even in the new salary climate, $80 million is a lot of money for a guy who doesn’t have a long track record of being a productive NBA player, much less a starter on a good team. While players normally hate to talk about other guy’s contracts in public, John Wall had no problem putting Jackson’s name out there as a symbol of an economic system gone haywire.

Unlike Wall, who walked into a featured role in the starting line-up on Day 1, Jackson spent his first two seasons in the league competing for minutes with Derek Fisher. He didn’t get significant playing time until his third season, when an injury to Russell Westbrook allowed him to move into the starting line-up. Like James Harden before him, Jackson knew there was a ceiling to his game if he stayed in Oklahoma City. The difference was Harden’s much higher efficiency numbers as a sixth man with the Thunder, which made projecting future stardom a lot easier.

Jackson came into the league with the reputation as a score-first combo guard with an inconsistent jumper and that’s exactly the player he has been. Even if you look past his career stats, which are limited by a lack of early playing time with the Thunder, his career per-36 minute numbers show a guy with some holes in his game - 16.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.9 assists on 43.2 percent shooting and 29.4% from 3. When the Pistons traded for him at the deadline last season, he was given the keys to an offense for the first time in his NBA career. He put up big numbers but the team didn’t win a lot and he was fairly inefficient. It’s hard to win when your lead guard dominates the ball, takes a lot of bad shots and doesn’t get to the free throw line very often.

Stan Van Gundy is taking a tremendous leap of faith. He could have let Jackson hit the market as a restricted free agent and there’s no guarantee he would have come back with a contract anywhere near as large. The Pistons are paying Jackson not for what he has done in the NBA but for what he could do in their system. To understand their reasoning, you have to delve a little deeper into the numbers in his time in Detroit, which is admittedly tricky given the small sample size (27 games) we are dealing with.

By the end of last season, the Pistons were basically two different teams. Team A featured Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe playing together upfront in a Twin Towers configuration. Team B featured Drummond as the roll man next to a stretch PF like Anthony Tolliver. Team A had a ton of size but they couldn’t space the floor and they struggled to defend in space. Team B had less talent but they fit together much, much better.

Jackson’s two most frequently used line-ups in Detroit were basically a controlled science experiment. The two other perimeter players - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Caron Butler - and the center - Drummond - were held constant. The lone variable was at PF, with either Monroe or Tolliver.



Net Points (Per 100 Possessions)




Monroe at PF






Tolliver at PF






The difference in Jackson’s individual production was even more startling.


Usage Rating

True Shooting Percentage

Points Per Possession

Assist Rate

Turnover Rate













When playing with Monroe, Jackson was just a guy. When playing with Tolliver, he looked like an All-Star. In the line-up with Tolliver, he had per-36 minute averages of 22.7 points and 13.1 assists and the team has an offensive rating of 121.5. There’s not a ton of data to go on, especially since NBA teams tend to punt games towards the end of the season for a wide variety of reasons, but the logic behind why Jackson (and the offense as a whole) was so much more effective is simple enough.

Put enough three-point shooters around Jackson and Drummond and they start to look like a 2015 version of Stan Van Gundy’s late 2000 Orlando Magic teams, with Drummond in the role of a young Dwight Howard. At 7’0 280 with a 7’6 wingspan, Drummond is one of the most physically gifted big man in the NBA. He’s an incredibly massive target on the pick-and-roll and he’s much too big and much too fast for any one defender to cover when he’s rolling to the rim. The only way to prevent him from scoring is to foul him or send help. The fouls you can live with because it puts the other team in the penalty - the key is to punish the defense when they send help.

For as talented as Monroe is, he’s not a threat from outside the free-throw line. When he is in the game, his defender can zone the paint and clog up the pick-and-roll. Put a three-point shooter in his place and the defense has no easy option - they have to give up something every time down the floor. That’s why Van Gundy was so fixated on finding three-point shooters in the off-season, picking up Ersan Ilyasova (career 37% from 3) and Marcus Morris (career 36.3%) in salary dumps under the idea they could be rehabilitated in a more wide-open system.

A generation ago, no NBA front office would have a let a talented young big man like Monroe walk for nothing in free agency. The problem is that a guy with his skill-set, no matter how gifted he is as a low-post scorer, passer or rebounder, doesn’t fit the offense SVG ran in Orlando or Mike D’Antoni did in Phoenix. It’s the same reason why Pau Gasol didn’t work with D’Antoni in Los Angeles. The underlying principle of the spread pick-and-roll is to fit everyone into the system and hope that the sum is better than the whole of the parts.

You should be able to draw up most of the Pistons' offense this season on a napkin. Drummond sets a pick for Jackson and rolls to the rim. Jackson turns the corner and either pulls up, takes the ball into the paint or throws the lob to Drummond. If the defense sends help, he looks an open shooter and gets the ball moving. The end result is something Daryl Morey could be proud of - a high-percentage shot at the rim or the three-point line.

The game will be simple for Jackson, a good thing for a guy with his physical gifts. At 6’3 210 with an absolutely monstrous 7’0 wingspan, he is bigger and faster than the vast majority of PGs in the NBA. If he can play in enough space, he should be able to get around his initial defender and create havoc. He’s not nearly as effective in a more conventional offense, where the other team can make him play in tighter spaces and force him to beat them as a precision shooter and shot-maker. The margin for error becomes a lot smaller and he makes a lot more errors.

The spread pick-and-roll is designed to make the PG’s life as easy as possible. That’s how Steve Nash went from All-Star in Dallas to Hall of Famer in Phoenix and that’s how Jeremy Lin went from fringe NBA player to cultural sensation in New York. Simplify the decision-making process and have a threat who collapses the defense and the triggerman’s job does itself.

A spread offense works the same for a PG as it does for a QB. The principles are the same. Instead of forcing a QB to make perfect throws in the cramped field created by a pro-style offense, the spread attacks the defense laterally, forces them into 1-on-1 match-ups and then counts on winning those match-ups with superior athletes. From there, the QB throws to the guy whose open. Put a guy in a position to succeed and he can play above his head - that’s how Ohio State won a national title with their third-string QB.

Four years ago, when Baylor first appeared on the national scene, most of the credit went to Robert Griffin III, who won the Heisman and was taken No. 2 overall in the NFL draft. The idea was that such a moribund program needed a once-in-a-generation QB to take them to the next level. As it turns out, once in a generation is closer to once in a recruiting class for Art Briles, who keeps plugging in QB’s - Nick Florence, Bryce Petty, Seth Russell - without missing a beat. Given RG3’s well-chronicled struggles in the NFL, it’s starting to look like we had things backwards. RG3 needed Briles a lot more than Briles needed him. A lot of QB’s can look like stars in a spread offense.

That’s the plan in Detroit. In this analogy, Drummond is the big-time WR who commands a double team and creates openings for everyone else. Just check out Brandon Jennings numbers before he tore his Achilles. So why pay Jackson all that money? For starters, with Jennings recovering from such a devastating injury, they have no way what they are going to get from him this season. Whoever gets to throw lobs to Drummond for most of the game is going to put up big numbers and guys with big numbers get paid in the NBA.

Just as important, Jackson is much taller, longer and thicker than Jennings, which should make him better suited to being the tip of the spear on defense, the area of the ball where the Pistons need to make the biggest improvement if they are going to make the jump into the playoffs. Jackson’s inconsistent three-point shot means he has to play with the ball in his hands and it limits the flexibility Van Gundy has with the rest of his line-ups but his size and athleticism should allow them to get away with playing more limited defenders like Morris and Ilyasova in their frontcourt. Jackson is one of the only PG’s in the NBA who can match up physically with a super-sized guard like Wall (6’4 195 with a 6’9 wingspan).

It’s a little unfair to compare their skill-sets, given that Wall was taken at No. 1 overall and Jackson lasted all the way until pick No. 24. Wall has been pegged as a future superstar since he was 15 while Jackson had to spend three seasons at Boston College to get noticed. The bottom line is the Pistons haven’t had much luck in the lottery, never picking higher than No. 7 in the last decade, while the Wizards have finished in the Top 3 three different times in that span. In an increasingly PG-driven league, Detroit has to figure out a way to make do without the same resources as their competitors.

The beauty of Van Gundy’s scheme is that it can do more with less at the PG position. When Wall went down in the second round of the playoffs last season, Washington was done. When Van Gundy lost Jameer Nelson in 2009, he plugged in Rafer Alston and kept it moving. Would you rather have a good QB with the best WR in the game or a great QB with average ones? When Wall is playing with Nene Hilario and Marcin Gortat upfront, he doesn’t have the same type of driving lanes and space to attack as Jackson when he is playing in Detroit’s four-out system. Even when the Wizards go small with a wing player at PF, they don’t have a roll man anywhere near as capable as Drummond.

If Jackson’s life on the court is significantly easier than Wall’s, he won’t have to be nearly as talented to put up the same type of numbers. That, at least, is what the Pistons were counting on when they gave him John Wall’s contract.