Those who know SVG best say Pistons will fix their problems on D

Under Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons are going to be focused on fixing their problems on the defensive end, say those who played under him in Orlando, including Justin Harper and DeAndre Liggins.
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The Pistons finished 25th in defensive efficiency last season, 27th in scoring defense and 27th in field-goal percentage defense. Here’s betting the Pistons don’t get five minutes into Stan Van Gundy’s first training camp before that issue is addressed.

“If you look at the teams that compete at the level we would like to compete at and contend for a championship in the near future, you’re going to have to be a top-10 defensive team and last year we were a bottom-10 defensive team,” Van Gundy told me shortly after being hired to run the Pistons from both the sidelines and the front office. “The players are going to have to own that. This can’t be about their numbers and their stats. It has to be about winning games. There are some things that have to be done on a basketball court that are not statistically oriented that you’ve got to dedicate yourself to if you are truly about winning.”

Here’s another bet worth making: The Pistons will have shown dramatic improvement on defense by the time next season ends. It might not come fast enough to please Van Gundy and it might not be good enough to immediately compete toe to toe with the heavyweights of their division. Chicago, after all, has been fortified by Derrick Rose’s return and Pau Gasol’s addition, Cleveland muscled up with LeBron James’ reappearance and the drafting of Andrew Wiggins No. 1, and Indiana will still be formidable despite the loss of Lance Stephenson; the Pacers plug in ex-Piston Rodney Stuckey instead. All that aside, the days of rose-strewn paths to the Pistons’ rim are coming to an end.

Take it from those who know Van Gundy best. Three players from the Summer League team Van Gundy put together for the Pistons played under him in Orlando. Brian Cook, DeAndre Liggins and Justin Harper separately all gave the same scouting report on Van Gundy’s coaching style.

“Just a hard, defensive-minded team that plays with a lot of heart and comes out every night playing to win,” Harper said.

“Hard-nosed team,” Liggins said. “Stan is a hard-nosed coach and that’s what I expect and I like it. I’m a hard-nosed player, a gritty player, and that’s what kind of coach he is.”

Cook, 33, hopes to play two more years in the NBA and then transition to coaching. When Van Gundy was hired by the Pistons, he contacted him about coming to Summer League to showcase himself to scouts. Van Gundy agreed, Cook adding that he asked of him to help young players get through the week of grinding practices that preceded Summer League to help reshape Pistons hearts and minds.

Cook used the word “accountable” a half-dozen times in discussing Van Gundy, mostly in reference to how he’ll change Pistons culture after a few chaotic seasons.

“I think out of all the coaches that I played for, Stan – he’s competitive – but I didn’t realize it when I was younger, he was trying to hold me accountable for the things I was doing. That’s the biggest thing when I was deciding to call coaches – that was it. I looked back at my career – some of the things I did wrong and some of the things I did right – and picked a coach who would hold me accountable.

“He’s intense. He holds you accountable for everything. When I was younger I didn’t realize that and I ended up getting traded, but now I’m back with him again. He holds you accountable and he wants you to be professional and pay attention to detail and that’s the biggest thing.”

Cook knows there are coaches who fit that description – intense, competitive, pay attention to detail – but quickly fray relationships and get tuned out. Van Gundy walks the line adroitly, he said.

“It’s a mixture. He’s very personable, too,” he said. “You can come up and talk to him. He’s the type of guy you respect because he gets on you and wants you to be good. If a coach stops yelling at you, he doesn’t care about you any more. He’s that type of guy. He cares about his players.”

Putting Van Gundy in charge of procuring his players as well as coaching them should make it easier to assemble a team that cares as much as Van Gundy, Cook believes.

“He picks guys that are going to work. Those guys at the end of the bench are professionals. Keeps everybody’s head level. That’s what he does. You’ve got to have good people and disciplined people and I think with all the guys and the coaching staff he brought over, they’ll change it around.”

I’ll have more tomorrow from Cook and Harper, two perimeter-shooting power forwards who talk about the importance of that trait in Van Gundy’s offense and how they view Andre Drummond after having played next to Dwight Howard.