Can Reggie Jackson and Brandon Jennings play together?

Reggie Jackson recently signed the largest contract in franchise history, and presumably will be the Pistons’ starting point guard of the present and future.

The obvious question is: what about Brandon Jennings?

Brandon’s career with Detroit has been a bit of a roller coaster. Coaching turnover, ill-fitting roster pieces, roster turnover, inconsistent play, and ultimately serious injury have made things difficult for Jennings.

Under Stan Van Gundy, however, Jennings thrived, putting up career numbers across the board. In fact, going by Wins Produced, Jennings was actually a more productive Piston than Jackson.

On top of having a career year, Jennings was an integral part of the Pistons’ post Josh Smith surge and quickly became a team leader and fan favorite prior to suffering a season-ending injury.

The “what about Brandon Jennings?” question must be asked.

And it’s been asked since the Pistons acquired Reggie Jackson last spring.

The Pistons have assured fans since day one that there is room in the rotation for both Jackson and Jennings. Fans may recall that finding room in the rotation for two guys who want to be starters hasn’t ended well for the Pistons in the past, and it’s been a problem surprisingly often.

Consider Allen Iverson and Richard Hamilton, Richard Hamilton and Ben Gordon, and most recently, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe, and to some extent, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. In two of those three instances, one of the pair of players was actually paid to leave the franchise — Allen Iverson ended his Pistons’ career in exile, and Josh Smith was waived — and Greg Monroe left of his own volition via free agency.

This certainly doesn’t mean Jackson and Jennings can’t coexist, but it ought to give at least a short pause.

Regardless,¬†this week after signing Jackson to the aforementioned contract, Pistons’ brass indicated that not only is there room for both in the rotation, but there are plans to play both players simultaneously, presumably at point guard and shooting guard.

The skeptic in me thinks that this is little more than preemptive public relations, which it very well could be, but if it is the plan, there might be a pretty big challenge to overcome.

Historically, both players are accustomed to playing with the ball, not off it, and both appear to be at their best in that role.

Last season, for example, nearly 81% of Jacksons’ made field goals were unassisted. For Jennings, 67%, and for another point of reference, for Augustin, 70%.

(Aside: interestingly, these are career highs for each of these point guards, which probably says something about Stan Van Gundy’s offensive schemes, but that is a story for another day.)

As a point of comparison, let’s look at the perimeter players who played¬†primarily “off the ball” for Detroit last season:

Player Percent of field goals unassisted
Caron Butler 19%
Kyle Singler 20%
Tayshaun Prince 25%
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 29%
Jodie Meeks 12%

Given that neither player is accustomed to having the ball in his hands so little, it seems that for Jennings and/or Jackson to play off the ball, Van Gundy will be asking one or both players to make significant changes to the way they play the game.

And this has proved to be easier said than done.

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