With Bullock out, Casey looks for an option that gets Pistons off to strong start
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AUBURN HILLS – Where Pistons sick bay is concerned, the working proposition appears to be “as one door opens, another closes.”
Before Luke Kennard made his return from a 16-game absence with a separated shoulder in Monday’s loss to Oklahoma City, Reggie Bullock had limped to the locker room. The sprained left ankle – the same injury that cost Bullock two games in early November –suffered three minutes into the game will sideline him at least for Wednesday’s matchup at Milwaukee.
Dwane Casey has no shortage of options but no obvious candidate to step in for Bullock, who offers the best combination of shooting, length and defensive ability.
Here’s a look at those options, weighing the pros and cons of each:
- Luke Kennard – Kennard would be the easy choice – if he hadn’t just sat out more than five weeks before returning with a 27-point G League rehab stint on Friday. He’s the player who most closely approximates Bullock’s elite 3-point shooting to give the Blake Griffin-Andre Drummond starting lineup as much space to operate as possible.
“He was real rusty,” Casey acknowledged after Tuesday’s practice. “Had it in second gear. I thought he avoided some situations, whether it was screens or cracking people, whatever it was, not wanting to hit his shoulder. He needs a little more time. I totally understand because you just don’t walk back in against a very physical team like OKC and be ready to take those hits.”
In 12 minutes, Kennard was 0 of 5, four of them 3-pointers, with two turnovers.
- Langston Galloway – For volume of 3-point shooting and ability to absorb starter’s minutes, Galloway would be an easy choice. Casey also loves his energy and defensive tenacity. He averages 25 minutes a game off the bench and 70 percent of his shot attempts have come from beyond the 3-point arc.
Galloway has been part of a five-man bench unit Casey has employed to great effect over the five-game winning streak snapped by Monday’s loss to Oklahoma City. If Casey wants to keep that unit intact – Galloway, Ish Smith, Zaza Pachulia, Stanley Johnson and Bruce Brown – starting Kennard would be one way to accomplish it.
But Casey made clear that wasn’t the overriding concern.
“We’re going to do what’s best to get a good start,” he said. “(Bench chemistry) plays into it some, but we’re going to think the whole picture – not just to break up the bench. We need to have a good start. We need physical toughness, mental toughness, a lot of things that we did not display last night.”
That sounds like an argument for …
- Bruce Brown – Brown’s size and defensive tenacity figure to hold appeal when the Pistons have to figure out how to match up with two challenging scoring threats for the Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Brown’s size would give him the tools to battle Middleton.
On the flip side, Brown’s elevation to the starting lineup wouldn’t do much to stretch Milwaukee’s defense. Brown averages just 2.1 3-point attempts per 36 minutes.
- Stanley Johnson – The move of Johnson to the bench in early November brought out the best in his game. He fits ideally in a unit led by Ish Smith and – away from the Griffin-Drummond tandem that encourages defenses to clog the middle – gets far greater opportunities to attack the paint.
On the other hand, Casey probably believes Johnson is the best defensive option against the dynamic Antetokounmpo and the best way to match minutes for Johnson against him is to have him in the starting lineup.
If Casey wants to go outside the box, he could consider two other options: Jose Calderon or Khyri Thomas.
Both offer 3-point shooting. Calderon gives the Pistons a second playmaker. Thomas gives them more size and more defensive versatility.
Bullock didn’t travel to Milwaukee, staying behind to get treatment for his ankle, though he’s not been ruled out for Friday when the Pistons host Philadelphia as they battle through what appears their toughest stretch of schedule all season.
“These next two weeks, if we’re not mentally tough we’re putting ourselves in a hole and last night – whether it’s three in four nights, it doesn’t matter,” Casey said. “We’ve got to come out with a mental disposition that we did not display.”