LOS ANGELES – Exhibit A: Stan Van Gundy’s statement on July 14 upon the news that the Pistons had re-signed Reggie Bullock: “We did a lot of study as the season was over, both coaches and scouts and front-office people, looking at our wing players. And the thing that came back from almost everybody was that over the last two years, when Reggie has played, the team has played well. And that’s what it’s all about – trying to build a team that functions well and can win games.”
Exhibit B: Reggie Bullock played less than 15 minutes in Sunday night’s win at Golden State and scored four points. His carrying tool is his 3-point shooting; he missed both of his triple attempts. The Pistons outscored Golden State by 26 minutes in Bullock’s 14:28 of playing time.
Yeah, that’s a pretty good example of a team that functions well.
One game, small sample size and all the necessary caveats. There’s a lot of competition for playing time off Van Gundy’s bench and there are no guarantees Bullock will be an everyday staple in the Pistons rotation. Some nights Langston Galloway will be dropping triples and take Bullock’s minutes. Rookie Luke Kennard is on the come and destined to be an offensive weapon at some point, probably soon.
But a plus-26 in limited time – no matter how random – surely seems to validate the research that led Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower to target Bullock to complete the roster last summer. When Bullock plays, more often than not the Pistons function as designed.
Bullock missed the first five games, serving an NBA suspension announced before he hit free agency last July, and the Pistons went 3-2. Since his return, they’ve knocked off the NBA’s last remaining unbeaten team (Clippers) and the defending champions (Warriors), coming back from 13 and 14 down in the third quarters to win by eight each time, in a dizzying 24-hour span.
What Bullock noticed while he sat out maybe went overlooked by most.
“Things we haven’t done in the past that we’ve been doing this year is a lot more ball pressure. Everybody’s trying to get up into people,” Bullock said Saturday before the Pistons strung together two eye-opening wins. “Just trying to have that identity that if you’re playing the Pistons tonight, it’s going to be a dogfight. They’re never going to lay down. They’re never going to back off. Just coming out, playing with energy, getting into players. I’ve just got to bring that when I get back out there.”
Sure enough, Bullock flashed as much for his defense against Golden State as he did for his cutting, ball movement and quick decision making at the other end. He contributed three of their season-high 16 steals. Van Gundy saw a different demeanor in Bullock at the defensive end early in training camp and in preseason games. Bullock credits a new teammate with his greater focus at that end.
“I would probably say that Avery (Bradley) helped me out a lot with that,” he said. “Just the way I see he competes, doesn’t take plays off, gets into players. Just having a player like that, that’s always locked in on both ends of the floor and plays hard, it motivates you as a team player. He has motivated me on the defensive end.”
The Pistons managed to win at Golden State despite the Warriors getting optimal production from their big three scorers – Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson hit 33 of 50 shots, 10 of 21 from the 3-point line, for 84 points – mostly because of the play of their bench.
“You look at the plus-minus numbers of (Anthony) Tolliver (plus-21 in 17 minutes) and Bullock tonight, and then Ish (Smith) turned it around in the second half – that unit really got rolling,” Van Gundy said. “You’ve got to have a lot of players play well to beat them, but I thought our bench tonight totally outplayed their bench.”
Something else different about the Pistons this season – Van Gundy’s shift in offensive philosophy to put a greater emphasis on movement and spreading responsibility, putting a little less on the point guards – plays to Bullock’s strengths, as well. He also picked up two assists against Golden State to go with his two baskets.
“I move well without the ball, I run the floor, I defend,” Bullock said. “I grab rebounds and I move the ball. Whatever unit he puts me on, I’m in it to win it for the team. If my number is called, I’ll be ready for it.”
And able to help even on nights, like at Golden State, where he doesn’t make a 3-point shot.
More Van Gundy from July 14: “A lot of people focus on Reggie’s shooting, which is very, very good. But it’s even more the way he plays the game. The ball moves when he’s out there. He makes quick decisions. He moves without the ball and at the other end he defends. He’s a two-way player who helps your team function at both ends of the floor.”