No. 3 With a Bullet

Harrellson hopes for more than Pistons No. 3 center role

Josh Harrellson
Josh Harrellson
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
Maurice Cheeks has been churning his lineups pretty consistently in training camp workouts, but the one consistent element has been Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith playing together as a frontcourt unit, the better to speed their comfort level.

One byproduct of that is to limit Josh Harrellson to playing only one position: center.

“They’ve been putting Dre and Greg on the same team,” said Harrellson, whom the Pistons signed to put the finishing touches on their summer roster makeover. “So other than that, I’m probably the only big we’ve got that can go against Dre, so I’ve been playing mostly the five.”

But when the Pistons stop beating up on each other and start playing other teams in preseason games next week, might Harrellson get a chance to work his way into the mix at power forward, where his outside shooting and rugged frame offers a unique blend of talents that could help spread the floor on one end and clog the paint on the other?

We’ll see. One thing’s for sure: Harrellson isn’t content to merely accept being pigeon-holed as the No. 3 center in a rotation that probably only has room for two, Drummond and Monroe.

“It’s very competitive,” he said. “Right now, we’ve got a new coach, so everybody is trying to impress him. Nobody’s for sure getting playing time besides Andre and Greg, so the backup spots are still open. There’s going to be a lot of competition between me, Charlie (Villanueva), Jonas (Jerebko), so we’re all going to come out and battle and whoever coach decides to put out there will be playing.”

In the 20 or so minutes of daily scrimmaging that have been open to the media so far this week, Harrellson is at least holding his own in the battle for backup minutes. He’s shown the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, sets a sturdy screen and is in his element banging for position with Drummond in the paint. And the Pistons already knew he presents a perimeter shooting threat.

That shooting stroke was a prime motivating factor in the Pistons’ decision to sign Harrellson over a field of candidates to fill the backup big man role. In his pre-camp workouts with Andre Drummond, monitored by assistant coach Rasheed Wallace, Harrellson was consistently impressive from the perimeter, not merely in shooting drills but in two-on-two and three-on-three competitions, as well.

Though only a third-year NBA player, Harrellson comes to the Pistons with the unique perspective of having played on two veteran, highly talented rosters with the Knicks and Heat. He likes what he sees with the Pistons so far and noted one free-agent signing he believes was an especially nice touch.

“We’re young,” he said. “We brought in Chauncey (Billups) and that’ll be a great help for leadership. He’s been here before. He knows what it’s like to win. I think he can teach us the ropes, but talent-wise, we’ve got a lot of great players. It’s just about coming together as a team. The previous teams I’ve been on that were successful, it was all about team and family and right now we’re trying to get that aspect of the game.”

Harrellson got to wrestle in the post with Drummond often before camp opened and he’s gotten even more familiar with him during two-a-days. He reminds Harrellson in one respect of a former Knicks teammate.

“He’s very athletic,” Harrellson said. “He reminds me of Tyson (Chandler). Not much in the post right now – he’s still young, he’ll develop that – but you can throw it anywhere and he’ll go get it. He’s a great finisher on the rim. He’s really improved that from last year and he’s definitely going to step up and be a great leader for us. If Dre develops the other stuff around that, he’ll be unstoppable.”