Clutch is the one term in the basketball lexicon that doesn’t have a certain definition, or an exact specification of achievements, but is widely acknowledged when delivered consistently.
By any sense of the word, the most clutch player in the league is one that was essentially given away at the trade deadline last year by the team that drafted him.
Since arriving in Detroit, Reggie Jackson has morphed into the most dominant scorer in late game situations this season.
The five-year, $80 million contract the 25-year-old signed this summer is appearing to be a bargain considering he is leading the league in crunch time points, totaling 112 points during the final five minutes or overtime with the game within five points.
Jackson has been one of the steadiest performers throughout the year, as through 39 games, the 6-foot-3 guard is one of just five players averaging over 19 points, 6.5 assists and 3.5 assists per game, joining John Wall, James Harden, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.
In crunch time, Jackson has connected 33 times from the field, buried six shots from 3-point range (tied for the seventh most in the NBA) and has knocked down 40-of-43 attempts from the foul line.
Opponents have a difficult time preventing him from getting to the rim.
Detroit has drastically improved this season after going 201-301 over the past six seasons. At 21-18, the Pistons have the seventh best record in the Eastern Conference and is hoping to make their first playoff appearance since 2009.
Part of the success the team has sustained this year is from its ability to win close games. The Pistons have managed to put the ball in Jackson’s hands, and he has led the team to an 8-7 record in games decided by five points or less.
Even when the opposition knows Jackson is going to have the ball, preventing him from scoring has proven to be a challenge.
“I think what (coach) Stan Van Gundy has done was provide him a lot of space. There are 3-point shooters on the floor and Andre Drummond in the post. Because of that, he’s been able to be successful,” Wizards forward Jared Dudley said. “He’s now the focal point of the offense. He’s finding his angles and when to attack people and he can finish with his athleticism and his jump shot.”
Detroit is averaging 1.1 more fourth quarter points per game from a season ago, largely because of Jackson’s creativity.
His ability to produce in large quantities is nearly unmatched this season.
Jackson and Westbrook are the only other players in the league this season to post a game with 40 or more points and dish out at least 15 assists another night.
The 24th overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft ranks 11th in assists this season, dishing out a total of 255 assists, transforming into one of the most complete point guards in the NBA.
In 66 total games with Detroit, Jackson is averaging 18.7 points, 7.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game while playing over 31 minutes a night.
Despite the improvements Detroit has made and his contributions this season, Jackson has received little recognition from the NBA fan voting for All-Star weekend.
Nine other guards in the Eastern Conference have tallied more All-Star votes than Jackson: Wall, Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas and Jeremy Lin.
Drummond is in line to be the first Detroit player since Allen Iverson in 2009 to represent the team at All-Star weekend and the team hasn’t sent multiple representatives to the mid-season exhibition since 2008.
The advanced statistics even support Jackson’s case for All-Star weekend, as he ranks 15th in the league in box score plus/minus (intended to measure a players total contribution each night) and his 1.8 value over replacement player also ranks 15th in the league.
The Pistons are back in the playoff hunt, and while Drummond has been one of the most dominant rebounders the league has seen in decades, when the game is on the line, Jackson becomes the focal point of the team’s attack.