DETROIT – The potential for Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard to add a dose of dynamism to the Pistons offense is on display in virtually every practice Stan Van Gundy conducts. The two most recent No. 1 draft picks paint with a full palette.
Putting their talent on public display might have to wait a bit.
It’s not going to be easy for Ellenson and Kennard to win battles for minutes with the two free agents Van Gundy added to complete the roster in July, Anthony Tolliver and Reggie Bullock.
Their 3-point shooting and solid defense check off two huge boxes for Van Gundy, who’ll also likely find comfort with veterans more certain to provide an element of consistency and productivity in off-the-bench roles that younger players accustomed to being big men on campus find unsettling.
There’s another common trait Tolliver and Bullock bring to the mix – their knack for doing the little things that help grease the gears of an NBA offense, things like quick decisions, decisive ball movement, relentless cutting and anticipatory defense.
Tolliver and Bullock sat with Van Gundy in mid-July when their signings were announced simultaneously and heard Van Gundy say that his staff came to unanimity in their postseason dissection of the roster: The offense always seemed to function at a higher level when Bullock was on the court.
“He’s a guard version of me,” Tolliver laughed after both vets hit three triples – Tolliver in four tries, Bullock in five – and scored 13 points in the 10-point win. “That’s funny. We talk about it all the time. He’s a ball mover. The ball doesn’t stick whenever he’s in the game. He does what he’s supposed to do. He’s in the right place, right time and he shoots it when he’s open. He keeps it simple and that’s exactly what I try to do, too.”
Van Gundy also thought Bullock, arguably the team’s best 3-point shooter, jump started their defense after Indiana shot 68 percent in the first quarter.
“I thought Bullock was great,” he said. “I thought he really changed the game. His ball pressure defensively was outstanding. He made shots. He ran the floor. I thought he was terrific.”
Kennard will have an opening to get his season off and running while Bullock serves a five-game suspension to start the season. The Duke rookie started and hit 3 of 4 shots in a 26-minute stint against Indiana.
But Bullock is in a comfort zone, his third season under Van Gundy after getting shuffled between the Clippers and Suns his first two years in the NBA. He’s been hampered by nagging injuries, missing nearly two months last season after suffering cartilage damage to his left knee. But he had a strong summer, camping at the same Santa Barbara, Calif.-based P3 facility where Stanley Johnson and Andre Drummond work with a focus on flexibility for injury prevention.
He understands his role: come off the bench, drain open shots and make things happen. Becoming a plus defender would nearly cement his spot in the rotation.
“It’s going to be something that we need coming off the bench this year, somebody to bring us energy when our first five go out,” Bullock said. “If it’s not me scoring, if it’s not me shooting the ball, it’s something Coach is stressing this year about us getting into people, making them play uncomfortable. I don’t like people getting into me defensively, so I just try to do something to stir up some commotion on the court and we started doing that in the second half and started getting turnovers and getting out running.”
Both Tolliver and Bullock hit transition triples, a skill that will mesh nicely with Ish Smith and his affinity for pushing the pace. Stick Boban Marjanovic, who scored 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting, in the middle as the go-to half-court threat and add the 3-point volume shooting of Langston Galloway at shooting guard and Van Gundy could have a very different and potentially potent offensive unit off the bench – augmented by the passing, cutting and savvy of the two vets Van Gundy grabbed to complete a deep roster.
“You have to have guys like that on your team,” Tolliver said of Bullock. “Especially when the ball starts sticking, you have to have guys like him and myself to move the ball, keep the ball moving and get everybody just having the ball in your hands. Sometimes it doesn’t necessarily have to be a shot. Just having the ball in your hands and having the ball move, it promotes ball movement and everybody is in a better rhythm and he’s great at that.”