Bullock’s value to Pistons soars as his synergy with Griffin comes into focus

Reggie Bullock is on track to nearly quadruple his previous career high in minutes played in his fifth NBA season.
Brian Sevald (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – If the “Jeopardy” answer came up “Steph Cury and Kevin Durant,” the question Alex Trebek likely wants to hear would be “Who are the MVP teammates for the NBA champion Golden State Warriors?”

But Cliff Clavin devotees might respond, “Who are the only two NBA starters averaging more than 3.0 3-point attempts per game with a better percentage from the 3-point arc than Reggie Bullock since Bullock became a full-time starter on Dec. 12?” and take up the argument with Trebek later at Cheers.

Yes. It’s true. Curry (45.8) and Durant (45.9) are the NBA’s only starters who take more than three triple attempts a game shooting it better than Bullock over the 40 games – and barely. Bullock is shooting 45.6 percent from the 3-point arc since then on 5.3 attempts a game, just a tick off of Durant’s 6.0 average. Curry’s in another stratosphere, averaging 10.2 triple attempts a game.

“And, to me, that’s not even the best part of his game,” Van Gundy said after Sunday’s practice and before the Pistons took flight to Salt Lake City to begin a 12-day, six-game road trip that opens Tuesday at Utah. “It’s his movement without the ball. It’s the fact that he doesn’t turn the ball over. That he doesn’t make a lot of defensive mistakes. It’s a lot of things with him. He’s just a very efficient player. Not flashy. Not going to go for 35 or 40. But just pretty consistent and not going to make many mistakes and going to make the right play at both ends of the floor more often than not.”

This is the point in the story where we’d give you Bullock’s insight into making the jump from fringe rotation player over his first three seasons with the Pistons to invaluable starter. Except Bullock was involved in a hit-and-run traffic accident on his way to Sunday’s practice. Traveling on Adams Road, Bullock was hit by a driver making a left turn against the light. After a brief exchange of words, the driver backed up and fled the scene, Van Gundy said Bullock told him.

Bullock was examined at a local hospital and, Van Gundy said, was “banged up” and experiencing back spasms. He will travel to Utah, though Van Gundy was uncertain of his status for Tuesday’s game. It’s the second straight season a Pistons player was involved in a traffic accident on his way to the team’s practice facility. Last season it was Jon Leuer, who also escaped serious injury.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the uncertainty of Bullock’s availability wouldn’t have greatly stressed Van Gundy and his coaching staff. But a guy averaging 31 minutes and 13.3 points since becoming a full-time starter while making half his shots and turning the ball over less than once a game is a rare breed.

And making Bullock even more valuable to the Pistons is his compatibility with Blake Griffin, the player around whom the franchise will tweak the roster this summer to find more players who fit the Bullock profile.

Bullock spent the first 1½ seasons of his NBA career as Griffin’s teammate with the Clippers, though he was buried behind the likes of Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Hedo Turkoglu on the wings.

“I think he was kind of familiar with how I ran stuff with J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford and those guys,” Griffin said after he and Bullock combined for 46 of the team’s 99 points in Friday’s win over Chicago. “Those are the guys he learned under, so we can say stuff to each other that goes back to those days.

“But, honestly, the credit is to him. He’s done an unbelievable job. He could always shoot. I think the area he’s made the biggest improvement from his rookie year and second year is he gets himself open and he does that by cutting back door, constantly moving, being physical, just being smart.”

Van Gundy cites Bullock as the player who’s most seamlessly adapted to playing off of Griffin and he’s milking their synergy for all he can get, often isolating Griffin and Bullock on the weak side and letting them go to work. Asked whether Bullock should be a candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, Van Gundy doesn’t hesitate.

“I think he should be. Absolutely, I do. But I don’t think he’s a big enough name, probably,” he said. “But absolutely, he should be. You’re talking about a guy who’d never played over 500 minutes and now he’s developed into a solid and efficient starter. That’s a hell of a big jump in a year and he should definitely be in the mix for that.”

  • Stanley Johnson, who’s missed the past two games with back spasms, practiced Sunday. Assuming he responds well and can practice again in Utah on Monday, he’s expected to be available against the Jazz.

  • Reggie Jackson went through all the non-contact portions of Sunday’s practice but “he didn’t do any of the five on five. He hasn’t done any contact yet – half court or full court,” Van Gundy said. He added that though it’s possible Jackson could play on the six-game trip, “I’d be shocked if he were available Tuesday.”

    Jackson suffered a grade 3 ankle sprain in the Dec. 26 win over Indiana. Dwight Buycks, the other Pistons point guard with a sprained ankle – albeit far less severe – didn’t practice after missing Friday’s win.