AUBURN HILLS – Stan Van Gundy views Tobias Harris as a starter. Whether that means he’s among the five Pistons introduced before tipoff or not – and what position he’ll play – really depends more on his teammates.
“Tobias is a starter,” Van Gundy said of Harris, who played all 82 games and led the Pistons in total minutes last season but came off the bench 34 times. “There’s no question that he’s a starter. I think a lot of teams bring a starter off the bench. You’re trying to get the mix that you want.”
And Van Gundy doesn’t have his mind made up – not even close – as to what the starting lineup is going to look like on opening night.
Oh, it’s a safe bet that Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and Avery Bradley will hear Mason call their name on opening night when the Pistons debut at Little Caesars Arena. But the reasons Van Gundy moved Harris to the bench last season – to have a go-to scorer to anchor the second unit, primarily – could compel him to use Harris that way again.
“Tobias is a starter. Andre is a starter. In my mind, Jon (Leuer) is a starter. And then I think guys like Stanley (Johnson), Reggie Bullock, Ish (Smith) – those guys have shown that they can start. I think Langston (Galloway) is capable of starting. It may just take a little longer in the preseason to figure out how we’re going to go.”
Harris came to the Pistons having played mostly small forward when he was acquired from Orlando at the 2016 trade deadline. He played there his first few games for Van Gundy, too, but when Marcus Morris seemed thrown out of his comfort zone at power forward the two swapped sides. Harris split time between both spots last year with Morris playing small forward and Leuer power forward in a three-man rotation at the two frontcourt spots.
Where will Harris log most of his minutes in 2017-18?
“That’ll be interesting to see how that comes out,” Van Gundy said. “A lot of that depends on him but it also depends on how the league goes in terms of who you’re playing against. But also how our other guys go and where our needs are in terms of Stanley and Jon and Henry (Ellenson) and Reggie Bullock and those other guys. Tobias is a guy we’re lucky with because he can play either spot. Among those other guys, as they compete for minutes, that’s going to determine more than anything where Tobias ends up playing.”
And Van Gundy expects a big year out of Harris, who despite his six seasons of experience only turned 25 this month. Ex-Pistons assistant coach Brendan Malone, who still scouts for the organization, has been driving from his New York home to Harris’ Long Island training base a few times each week and offered positive reports. Harris and his personal trainer came to Auburn Hills for a few days this summer to work with Van Gundy’s staff to coordinate his workout regimen with an eye toward improved 3-point shooting.
Whether he’s taking those shots as a power forward or a small forward – or taking them to start the game or coming off the bench – are answers Van Gundy expects to be determined by others more than by Harris.