AUBURN HILLS – Stan Van Gundy hasn’t liked the vibe of the Pistons starters to begin their past two games – both of which saw them down 21 points four minutes before halftime, making it a minor miracle they emerged with a split – and mused after Monday’s loss to Philadelphia about considering a lineup change.
He probably didn’t consider it all that seriously given the schedule and the fact we’re only four games deep into the 82-game grind. But tonight’s game with Minnesota will be a little bit of a litmus test – in part because coaches often look at five-game trends and in part because the Pistons will have two days off before their next game.
“We’ll go with the same group tonight and then we’re five games in, headed out West and I think we’ll take a look at some things tomorrow and Friday and then decide where we want to go,” Van Gundy said after the morning walk through. “And then we’ve got a couple of days between games when we come back. We’ll evaluate a little bit on Thursday and again when we come back.”
The spot Van Gundy is likely most apt to change if there were to be one is at small forward, where Stanley Johnson is still looking for his first basket at Little Caesars Arena, going 0 for 14 in two home starts. But even that’s unlikely at this point given Johnson is the team’s top defensive option at forward and is coming off a strong preseason while dealing lately with a bothersome back.
Besides, the likely starter for Johnson would be Jon Leuer and he’s emerged over the past two games as Van Gundy’s top option at center behind Andre Drummond in addition to soaking up some minutes at power forward while Tobias Harris flips to small forward when Johnson sits.
Leuer might be ticketed for even more minutes at center if Van Gundy was offering any clues to tonight’s rotation with his thoughts on who’ll be first in line for minutes off the bench behind Leuer and Ish Smith, the staple at point guard behind Reggie Jackson. Asked about Anthony Tolliver and Langston Galloway closing in on claiming the next two spots in the pecking order, Van Gundy said:
“The guy who has been effective throughout the preseason and I gave him one chance to play and he was effective was Henry (Ellenson). And then I haven’t gotten back to him. That’s hard to explain – even for me. Luke (Kennard) and Langston, A.T. and Henry – we’ve got a lot of guys who are pretty close in ability and it’s not easy on decisions. I think we’ll probably look at a couple of other things over the next four games or so and then I’d like to come back from the California trip with at least a little bit better idea of roles I want guys to settle into.. Would’ve liked to have done it earlier, but there’s still some things I want to look at.”
The return of Reggie Bullock, who serves the last of his five-game suspension tonight, will further complicate Van Gundy’s decision-making process – and give him another 3-point shooting option.
“No question,” he said, “and that’s why I said we’ll do some re-evaluation tomorrow but then also after the California trip because then he’s back.”