A Bench Identity

Bynum, Villanueva back in the mix to give Pistons second unit some punch

Rodney Stuckey
Stuckey has been the anchor of the second unit, with reinforcements coming back from injuries
Bruce Bennett (NBAE/Getty)

In a matter of about 30 hours starting at mid-afternoon on Sunday and extending to mid-evening Monday, the Pistons pushed the misery they felt the previous few days off to the side. But if the headline was the two double-digit wins on consecutive days, one on the road, the lasting value to come from toppling Brooklyn and Milwaukee could well prove to be finding the identity of their bench.

Maurice Cheeks has been a daring chemist in mixing and matching combinations over the season’s first month with every player on the roster except rookie Tony Mitchell getting a shot at a spot in the rotation, though injuries opened the door for the opportunities given fellow second-rounder Peyton Siva.

But Cheeks might have found something over the past two wins with Charlie Villanueva’s awakening and Will Bynum’s return from a hamstring injury that cost him five games.

With Rodney Stuckey, the season’s most consistent force, anchoring the second unit along with Kyle Singler, who has endeared himself to Cheeks as surely as he did to Lawrence Frank as a rookie, the Pistons figure to start most second quarters with those two on the court along with Bynum at point guard, running the pick and roll with Andre Drummond and Villanueva spotting up at the 3-point line on the strong side.

“We have been relying so much on Rodney,” Cheeks said after Monday’s dismantling of Milwaukee. “When he came into the game, we put the ball in his hands, either to score the ball or beat someone off the dribble. With Charlie being able to play and Will coming back, the pick-and-roll offense is pretty good with those guys because Charlie spreads the floor so well and it gives Andre more of a rhythm to get to the rim. If Charlie continues to make shots the way he’s made them the last couple of games, it opens up the floor a little bit more.”

Villanueva, who dealt with shoulder and back issues and played briefly in just one of the first 12 games, has scored 20 points in 25 minutes over the past two games and hit 4 of 9 from the 3-point arc. The best stretch of the 2012-13 season started at about this time a year ago when Villanueva, Bynum and Drummond proved a dynamic combination in a second unit that usually also featured Stuckey and since-traded Austin Daye.

Slot the more rounded Singler in for Daye and the same dynamics remain in place: Villanueva creating space for Bynum and Drummond to inflict pick-and-roll terror, Bynum and Drummond’s threat to create two easy points at the rim giving Villanueva the freedom to find an open space along the arc.

“It definitely opens the court up,” said Bynum, whose hamstring cost him five games, after Monday’s rousing win. “Charlie has been doing this his whole career. Charlie just needs that opportunity and he got that the last couple of games. Having a full roster of players, we’re definitely a better team.”

“We need it, there’s no question,” Cheeks said of Villanueva’s 3-point threat for a team that came into Monday’s game still last in the league in 3-point percentage and is still at just 28.5 percent after the season-best 12 makes against the Bucks. “Especially when Will’s in the game with Andre, the way those two play off of each other, if you have a guy that can spread the floor like Charlie, who makes shots, it just helps the pick-and-roll game even more and that’s primarily what we run in the second quarter when Will and Andre are in the game.

“And when Charlie’s shot is not falling, you have Stuckey, who you can post up or beat people off the dribble, it just opens the floor even more.”

The Pistons get three more home games around the Thanksgiving holiday before hitting the road again for games at Miami, Milwaukee and Chicago next week. With a little momentum at their backs and the semblance of rotation stability for the first time thanks to Bynum’s return and Villanueva’s emergence, the opportunity to gain some ground amid a horde of floundering conference opponents is at hand.

As Brandon Jennings put it after the Milwaukee win, “We can’t get satisfied with just two wins. Right now the East is real shaky. We can win the next two games and we can be the third team in the East the way it’s shaking out right now.”