A tale of 2 Reggies: As Pistons hold on without Jackson, Bullock blossoms into solid NBA starter
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AUBURN HILLS – The karmic balance for the 2017-18 Pistons involves the Reggies. The dark cloud hanging over the season is the injury to Reggie Jackson, costing him 28 games and counting. The silver lining has been the emergence of Reggie Bullock as a bona fide NBA starter. Yin, yang.
“Reggie’s proven that he’s a good, legitimate starting player in this league,” Stan Van Gundy said. “It’s been a huge jump for him this year and he’s done a good job with it. He’s always known how to play and he makes your team better.”
Bullock is on pace to quadruple his previous career high for minutes played, already logging well more than double his previous best. Since moving into the starting lineup in mid-December, Bullock has averaged 31 minutes a game, behind only Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin among current Pistons starters.
“It was definitely an adjustment, going from playing 10, 11 minutes a game to playing like 33 minutes a night. But it’s always something I wanted to do – play a lot of minutes in this league,” Bullock said after scoring 16 points in Wednesday’s win over Milwaukee. “Coach finally gave me the keys and the opportunity to go out there and play and play so free.”
Since becoming a full-time starter in the season’s 27th game, Bullock has made 47.1 of his 3-point attempts. Among players with at least three attempts per game over that span, only Darren Collison, at 48.8 percent, has better marksmanship. Among players with at least five attempts a game, Bullock is No. 1.
Not bad for a throw-in to the 2015 trade that brought Marcus Morris to the Pistons from Phoenix when the Suns were frantically clearing cap space for what became a failed run at LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency.
“He was a guy that we liked, so we wanted him in the deal – but the deal was made for Marcus, no question,” Van Gundy said. “But that’s where your scouting – trying to really evaluate everybody on every roster – comes in because when you’re hammering out a deal like Jeff (Bower) was, being able to get Bullock was a good thing.”
The cost of that deal: a 2020 second-round pick.
Bullock’s growth has been such that Van Gundy now is dedicating a good chunk of his play calls with Bullock in mind. Just as Drummond dribble handoffs to Avery Bradley represented a big chunk of the offense before the Griffin trade, now it’s a lot of Griffin and Bullock dribble handoffs.
“And pick and rolls,” Van Gundy said. “Those two guys, I think that’s a good two-man game. We hope to do more and more of that.”
Where Bullock rarely took anything but catch-and-shoot 3-pointers until this season, he’s now more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and has exhibited good feel on runners and mid-range pull-ups off the dribble.
“Look, Reggie Bullock’s a good basketball player,” Van Gundy said. “He knows how to play the game and he’s coming into his own. He’s a good story, I think, and a lesson in that everybody in this league matures at different rates. It’s opportunity, it’s development. He’s taking advantage of it and playing well. As you play more, you learn more and do things better. It’s taken him time, but he’s proven that he can play at a high level.”
Bullock loves playing for Van Gundy after being buried for 1½ season on a Clippers roster filled with veterans and poised for title runs and then feeling unwanted by the Suns for a half-season.
“It’s great, the confidence that he has in me as a coach and as a player that I have in myself and my teammates have in me,” he said. “They know what I’m going to do every night: shoot the ball, cut, defend and just know how to play and get others involved. As long as I do that at a high level, the minutes just continue to keep coming.”
A season where a happy ending has been threatened by injury to one Reggie, the other Reggie’s blossoming has emerged as one bit of cheery news for the Pistons.
“Maybe a little (Jackson participation),” he said. “Really, what my hope is, is that after the Chicago game (March 9), we’ll have a day off on Saturday and then hopefully on Sunday he’ll be able to go.”
The Pistons will have 16 games remaining as they leave for Salt Lake City to open a six-game road trip.
“We’re going to go with Lang, whether he shoots it real well or not, and let him roll. And then, hopefully, we’ll get Luke back to playing the way we know he can play.”