Lack of obvious options complicates SVG’s course with Pistons bench

Pistons starters with Blake Griffin have been a productive unit but the bench has been an issue over that time
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Stan Van Gundy is aware the Pistons have a bench problem. Less clear – way, way murkier – is what to do about it.

The starting unit – Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, Reggie Bullock, Stanley Johnson, Ish Smith – is playing well.

“Our starters played together as a unit 20 minutes last night and they were plus-9,” Van Gundy said Saturday, talking of a game the Pistons lost by 12 with their bench being outscored 65-21 by Boston’s. “And that’s pretty much been the norm. We’ve struggled when we break that lineup. And we have tried different things.”

Lots and lots of different things.

He’ll try something different in Charlotte on Sunday as the Pistons begin a stretch of five road games over their next six and 15 of the final 24 games this season. Eric Moreland will be back in the rotation to help better manage the minutes of Drummond and Griffin.

“We’re going to play him now,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve always got either Blake or Andre on the floor, but our second unit was good early in the year when Ish was coming off the bench and it was an energy lineup. The biggest problem is it’s become a lower-energy lineup. Eric’s a guy who can provide us with some energy. Plus we’re in a stretch of six games in nine days. We’ve got to play more people, so we’ll give him a shot.”

The quandary Van Gundy faces in trying to do something to goose the bench unit is the easiest solution – moving a starter into the mix – comes at a cost.

“That’s where it gets tricky,” he said. “Could you improve your bench? Yeah. But we’ve got one lineup that’s working. You want to mess with that?”

Complicating the situation is that Van Gundy can’t put a finger on any one position or player as the root of the issue. Anthony Tolliver and James Ennis are entrenched at the forward spots. He has options in the backcourt – Langston Galloway or Luke Kennard at shooting guard; Jameer Nelson, Dwight Buycks or Galloway at point guard – and, at one point or another, they’ve all been tried.

“I look on my lineup sheet for the nine games Blake’s been here,” he said. “We’ve played a multitude of lineups. We haven’t gotten over the hump. We’ll continue to try.”

When Griffin first arrived, Van Gundy started removing Drummond roughly midway through the first and third quarters and then bringing him back with the second unit. Lately, the pattern has reversed – to little net effect.

“I thought we were running (Griffin’s) tank down a little bit, so we’ve tried to get him earlier. There hasn’t been anything other than the starting lineup that’s been good. That’s the problem. It’s not like there’ve been other good lineups over this stretch. I wish there were. That would make some of the decisions easier. But there really haven’t been.”