AUBURN HILLS – Stan Van Gundy, president of basketball operations, built the Pistons roster quite intentionally to give Stan Van Gundy, Pistons coach, as many options as possible. Now he’ll spend the rest of the off-season coaxing himself into making use of those options.
When Van Gundy talked about the signing of Eric Moreland and how he offered a completely different skill set than Boban Marjanovic as an alternative when Andre Drummond rests or is unavailable, he added, “I think we’ve got to do a better job of using our entire roster.”
Reminded of that this week, Van Gundy chuckled and said, “I hope so. I hope so. Again, I’ve never been that guy.”
Can he become that guy – a coach who employs less of a rigid rotational system and more of a case-by-case rotation based on opponent, schedule and game situation?
“You don’t know how guys are going to play, but ideally I think having guys that can contribute in certain situations and having the flexibility to use different people – plus things like back-to-back nights, where we haven’t been as good and maybe can change the energy a little bit with some different guys. I think that’s got to certainly enter into our thinking more than it has in the past.”
The last two signings to bring the Pistons roster to 14 – where Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower expect to stop, barring the unforeseen – were Reggie Bullock and Anthony Tolliver. When the Pistons won 44 games and went to the playoffs in 2015-16, both players ended the season in the rotation.
That fulfilled the ideal formulated out of the spring’s review of 2015-16. Van Gundy and Bower wanted a roster filled through the end of the bench with players he felt comfortable using in games.
“Last year we had three guys that by the time the season started, we just really didn’t plan to play,” Van Gundy said, naming the last two second-round picks, Michael Gbinije and Darrun Hilliard, plus rookie Henry Ellenson. The Pistons had no second-round pick this season and Van Gundy came away from Orlando Summer League convinced both Ellenson and this year’s No. 1 pick, Luke Kennard, were ready to help.
“I don’t look at any of our guys (now) that way. Plus, quite honestly, we were coming off 44 wins and a playoff appearance, so you’re certainly going to give those same guys some rope. This year, we’re not. We’re coming off 37 wins and missing the playoffs. You’ve got to get better. It’s a whole different approach. So everything’s a little more wide open and we’re open to more positions and more different guys.”
It’s certain that Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris are going to play major roles. Van Gundy views Jon Leuer as a starter – or someone capable of playing starter’s minutes, no matter the role he’ll ultimately fill – and expects he’ll rebound after slumping late last season after blowing past his previous career high in minutes played by the All-Star break. Stanley Johnson and Ish Smith are in line for big roles, as well, and Langston Galloway was targeted as their No. 1 free agent and came to a contract agreement within 24 hours after free agency opened.
Those eight are heavy favorites to be in the opening night rotation. Beyond that, if Van Gundy goes to nine, 10 or 11, it could vary from night to night depending on unit need, opponent, game situation or any number of factors.
Van Gundy plans to use Leuer “a lot more” as a center this season. That opens opportunities for Ellenson and Tolliver. Kennard’s shooting and all-around offensive potential might be too good to ignore – and Van Gundy’s qualms about his ability to move his feet and defend were largely erased by Kennard’s body of work in Orlando, which included 48 percent 3-point marksmanship.
Boban Marjanovic’s irrepressible scoring puts him in the mix, just as Moreland’s shot blocking and energy will. Bullock’s shooting and the ways he helps the offense with cutting and ball movement are his path to playing time – along with Van Gundy’s expectation that the Pistons will make more use of three-guard lineups this season.
“Most of the time you go in and you have a pretty damn good idea. There might be a spot or two, but for the most part you know who’s going to play. I really don’t right now. I’m more wide open to other possibilities than I’ve been at any time as a head coach in this league. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”