There are still seven preseason games to go and nearly three weeks before Stan Van Gundy and Pistons general manager Jeff Bower have to make roster decisions, but Reggie Bullock is out of the gate with a burst.
“He’s done everything he can possibly do for us to think about him because he really goes out and defends,” Van Gundy said after Wednesday’s practice following the preseason opener in which Bullock caught his eye. “He plays with high energy. I think he stepped up last night and did a good job.”
Even before Bullock hit two 3-pointers, dished out four assists and grabbed three rebounds in an 18-minute second-half stint Tuesday, he’d obviously made an impression on Van Gundy. After allowing Indiana to score 59 points and shoot 51 percent in the first half, the Pistons began the third quarter with what Van Gundy considered the best defensive unit he could muster given the injuries to point guards Reggie Jackson and Steve Blake on top of Spencer Dinwiddie’s foul trouble.
That Bullock was part of that five-man unit is perhaps the best indicator yet that he’s pulled ahead in the race for the final roster berth or two being contested by him, Adonis Thomas and Cartier Martin. Thomas pulled out of Saturday’s practice with Achilles tendon pain – an MRI revealed what Van Gundy called a “very, very, very small tear, like 2 centimeters” and says Thomas could be back by Saturday if the pain subsides – and Martin sat out Tuesday with a sprained wrist.
“In practice, Coach wants me to be all over the floor,” Bullock said. “He knows what I can do on the defensive end, so I just try to do that in practice and to transfer it over into the game. It’s great that Coach has confidence in me to put me out there with his best five on the defensive end. I felt like we pushed the intensity when we got out there. We were making plays, getting stops, getting out in transition, knocking down shots. It was just all about us playing together. It wasn’t me doing anything. It was about us bonding and helping each other out when somebody messed up.”
Bullock was the 25th pick in the 2013 draft, going to a Clippers team gunning for long playoff runs and deep in veteran wing players. He was swapped to Phoenix at the trade deadline last year and included in the Marcus Morris trade to the Pistons as the Suns worked to create cap room for their pursuit of then-free agent LaMarcus Aldridge.
He’s got several players ahead of him in Detroit, too – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks at shooting guard, Morris and Stanley Johnson at small forward – but his defense and shot-making have put him in position to crack the roster. He’s got several things Van Gundy likes – shooting ability, size and length for his position and a defensive bent, above all else. Those four assists and three rebounds don’t hurt his cause, either.
“Bullock’s a good defender,” Van Gundy said. “There’s no question. And he made a couple of threes last night. He’s got quick feet. I think that he can help us.”
“I know what my strengths are – shooting and on the defensive end,” Bullock said. “My teammates know I can shoot the ball, so I’m going to take my shots if I’m open. But if I don’t have a shot I should take, I’m going to move the ball and get into something. I’ve always been a player – throughout my career, even in college and high school – I never force anything. I was letting my shots come to me and try to make those shots when they come to me and just bust my (backside) on the defensive end, pretty much.”
He’s battling for a roster spot that probably is an injury away from being a rotation spot. Based on what his coach has seen from him in training camp – and what he put on public display in his first Pistons preseason game – he’s winning that battle so far.