Among NBA fans, Pierre Jackson is perhaps best known for being the No. 42 pick in the 2013 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers or for his nine-game stint with the Dallas Mavericks last season.
However, Jackson has thrived overseas and in the D-League. As a rookie, he averaged 29.1 points, 6.2 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals with the Idaho Stampede. He re-joined the 76ers and seemed poised for a breakout sophomore year. However, in Philly’s first summer league game, he ruptured his right Achilles, which sidelined him for a year. But he bounced back in the D-League the next year, once again posting impressive stats: 22.5 points, 7.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 steals. This led to his two 10-day deals with Dallas.
This year, Jackson joined Maccabi Tel Aviv, averaging 13.3 points, 4.7 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 24.5 minutes and winning the Israeli League Cup. HoopsHype caught up with the 26-year-old to discuss his pro career thus far and his goal of returning to the NBA in the 2018-19 season.
This year, you played for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel. How was that experience, on and off the court?
Pierre Jackson: Man, Maccabi has been great and welcomed me with open arms. I had some brief stints in Europe in the past, but I didn’t get a chance to stay long with those teams. But being here, it has easily been one of my best experiences as a professional basketball player. The culture here – the rivalries between the different clubs – is intense. If you’re walking around the city, either your team’s fans will come up and praise you or opposing fans will come up and talk crazy to you. They’ll yell out your name and trash talk and stuff like that. It’s great. It’s all love, just because they’re so competitive and so passionate about the game.
You’re playing Euroleague games with Maccabi. You’ve played professionally in the D-League, in other overseas leagues and in the NBA. How does the Euroleague compare to the other leagues in terms of the competition level?
PJ: I think the Euroleague is easily the second-best league after the NBA, just due to the fact that there are so many former NBA players here. There are even former lottery picks in the league; if they don’t make it in the NBA and they decide to play overseas, they either go to China or they come to the Euroleague. There are also guys who play over here for a good portion of their career who then make the transition to the NBA and have a lot of success, like Milos Teodosic and Bojan Bogdanovic. Both of those guys did a great job in the NBA this year. With guys like that and all the former NBA players, there are no nights off in the Euroleague.
How much has your game developed over the years, and how much more comfortable and confident are you now versus when you first became a pro?
PJ: It’s ridiculous, man. It’s ridiculous how much I’ve matured, just in general, both on and off the court. With the way I deal with my body, the way I approach games now, the way I practice, the way I work out… Back in the day, I had younger legs and it was before my injury, so I’d play all day and I wouldn’t really hydrate or stretch the way I should’ve been.
The injuries I had were sort of blessings in disguise because I learned how to take care of my body and when I was hurt, I actually had a chance to sit down and really, really watch my film to see what I was doing wrong and what I was doing well. I knew when I came back, I’d approach the game differently than I used to and lead more than I did before. During my rookie year, my role on my D-League team was pretty much just scoring. Once I was 100 percent healthy and able to come back, I got to get back to running the team and building relationships with my teammates. Then, the guys really respected what I had to say and what I was seeing on the floor. To this day, guys still come up to me, asking me questions or finding out where they should be on the court and they really listen to what I have to say. I was definitely able to learn the game even more while I was hurt. I also think being able to play the game in so many different parts of the world has helped me a lot. I see it every day, just when it comes to guys respecting what I have to say on the court.
You mentioned your injury and the positives that you took away from it. But what was your rehab like after you ruptured your Achilles and what advice would you give to anyone who has to go through a lengthy recovery process like that?
PJ: Ah man, that was easily one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to go through. And not just from a basketball standpoint, but just one of the most difficult things period. The timing was probably the worst thing. The timing was so bad because I felt like I was in a perfect situation at the time with the 76ers. But as soon as I could, I found someone really good back home so I could start my rehab and stay around my family throughout the process. I actually had my daughter that same year too, so I was actually able to stay home with her throughout her entire first year – which was just another blessing in disguise.
After the injury, Philadelphia signed me to a partially-guaranteed deal just so they could help me get through the rehab and they didn’t have to do that, man. To this day, I’m so grateful that they did that; they’re such a great organization. To do something like that, it really meant a lot. I cried when I learned that they were doing that. Once I actually started my rehab, I just hit the ground running. For a long time, I was rehabbing five or six days a week. I was working really hard. The crazy thing about it is that I actually started dunking at five months [after the injury]. I’m talking about put-my-head-at-the-rim dunks at five months. When I went to Philadelphia’s doctor, she had a crazy reaction when she saw me dunking and stuff; She hadn’t seen someone who was able to do that so fast. But it’s because I was just really eager to get back on the court. When I saw the doctor, she told me that everything looked great, so I was looking forward to trying to come back during the year, but she told me to slow down. I just really wanted to try to help Philadelphia that year, but I wasn’t able to play. Looking back, it was really tough. But going into it, I was just determined to get back to being the same player that I was before the injury and I was able to do that.
You’re arguably one of the best players outside of the NBA right now. You’re a two-time D-League All-Star and this year, you were the MVP of Israeli League All-Star game. I know you have a player option with Maccabi next season, but is there part of you that wants to get back into the NBA?
PJ: That’s my ultimate goal – to play at the highest level in basketball, play against the guys I grew up watching, and be able to stay at home [in the United States] to play in front of my family. Getting back to the NBA will be my goal until I can’t walk anymore.
But Euroleague is the second-best league in the world and I had an opportunity to play an entire healthy season in the Euroleague, so this year was great to me. I had an amazing time with these guys this year. We had our ups and downs, but it was still an amazing season.
With returning to the NBA being your ultimate goal, what is your plan for his summer to make that happen? You’ve obviously showcased your game overseas, but are you planning to do free-agent workouts for teams or play summer league or anything like that?
PJ: To be honest, I haven’t really talked with my agent about this summer yet since we still have some time left in the season here [in Israel]. I’m just trying to continue to stay healthy throughout the remainder of the season.
I will not be doing summer league, though. I’ve done it, like, four times and I felt like I did really well during those different summer leagues, but it didn’t ever lead to any kind of results. I think the fact that I was healthy for this full year will help me. I’m just trying to finish this season out, then I’ll look at what’s next this summer.
Let’s say that you do join an NBA team next summer. What would you be able to provide and what role do see yourself filling?
PJ: If given the opportunity, I think I can be a great backup point guard. My main thing as I’ve been getting older is focusing on running the team. I pretty much know I can create a shot or get a shot up whenever I need to, but I obviously wouldn’t need to get up that many shots being on a team with superstars and guys who are face-of-the-franchise players. I’d just want to go in and be a coach on the floor and run the second unit. I’m pretty seasoned at this point; I’ve played six seasons! I’ve not going to say that I’m old, but I’m kinda old! (laughs) I feel like I know a lot about the game at this point. I’d love to be able to bring what I know to an NBA organization, while also getting the opportunity to learn so much more by being around an NBA organization and being around NBA minds who could help me out and teach me so much more. I feel like I can help younger guys take their game to the next level, and also help guys who are around the same age as me get better. And, obviously, they’d all be helping me as well because I haven’t really been around an NBA organization that much. I’d love to join an NBA team and be able to build a strong relationship with my head coach, where he can have confidence in me and I can try my best to help him. I take this game really seriously and I’d love for an NBA head coach and NBA organization to get to know me and realize that about me. I think I can be a really good back-up point guard who can help a team get over the hump.
At this point, six seasons in, which players do you study and try to learn things from?
PJ: There are really seven guys who I watch a lot: Jonny Flynn, Chris Paul, JJ Barea, Jameer Nelson, Deron Williams, Kemba Walker and Isaiah Thomas. I still watch film of Jonny Flynn because he was one of my favorite point guards when I was coming out of junior college. I got a chance to play with JJ Barea and Deron Williams when I was on the Mavericks last season. I was able to pick their brains a little bit and that was amazing. I still watch film of those two.
The guys I probably watch the most are JJ, Jameer, Kemba and IT, just because I try to watch the guys who are smaller so I can pick up things from them. I watch them because they’re all great scorers despite being really small. JJ is such a great scorer, he’s small and he couldn’t be athletic to save his life! I always try to watch how he gets to his spots and scores the ball and does all of this so efficiently without relying on athletic ability. I watch Jameer for similar reasons and I try to watch how he runs a team and leads too. I watch his interviews and stuff off the court because it’s awesome to see how approachable he is, how guys interact with him, how he leads his team and things like that. JJ and Jameer, I watch a lot of their old stuff to see how they get to their spots and control the game. Kemba and IT are the guys who I love watching today. I’l try to emulate the different things they do because they’re just so good.