Buycks, a pro at playing for his job, makes a strong case to stick with Pistons
Brian Sevald (NBAE/Getty)
DENVER – Their playoff odds might be dwindling to incalculable numbers with each goring defeat, but the Pistons won’t admit – not even to themselves – that there’s any motivation but winning games until the math proves otherwise.
Even Dwight Buycks followed that course after his career-high 22 points led a rally that saw the Pistons cut all but five points off a 26-point deficit and give themselves more than a puncher’s chance over the final seven minutes of what became a 120-113 loss here Thursday night.
But Buycks clearly has as much or more at stake than anyone else on Stan Van Gundy’s roster over the season’s final 14 games. When the Pistons converted him from a two-way to a standard contract in January, they gained his rights through the summer to see how their roster shakes out. The impression Buycks makes over the season’s final four weeks figures to go a long way to inform their decision.
Yet Buycks – befitting a player who’s never had anything approaching long-term security and has played in more countries than the Globetrotters to pursue a living – has come to know there’s no sense focusing on anything but the present.
“Honestly, I’m just trying to do as much as I can. I’m not really thinking about that,” he said. “I’m just trying to see what we can do, help this team out as much as possible. I’m trying to be aggressive and trying to make plays for our team.”
The depth chart at point guard when the season broke was Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway. When Jackson suffered his grade 3 ankle sprain on Dec. 26, Smith was elevated to the starting lineup and Galloway got first shot at backup point guard minutes. Galloway has played both backcourt spots over his four-year NBA career, but is a more natural shooting guard and Van Gundy quickly elected to use him there primarily.
That cracked the door for Buycks and he played well enough to convince the Pistons to convert him from a two-way contract before he approached the 45-day limit such players can spend with the NBA parent team. He lost his grip on the backup spot when the Pistons added veteran Jameer Nelson at the trade deadline, but Nelson’s shooting woes – 28 percent overall and 1 of 14 from the 3-point line since joining the Pistons – brought the carousel back to Buycks.
In his return from a two-game absence after spraining his ankle last week, Buycks scored his 22 points in 23 minutes, hitting 8 of 15 shots and going 5 of 5 at the foul line. He scored 19 points in 16 second-half minutes – 17 was his previous career high, coming Jan. 10 at Brooklyn in the last road game the Pistons won – finishing the game after entering for Smith with four minutes left in the third quarter.
“I thought he gave us a good lift,” Van Gundy said. “Attacking on pick and rolls. I thought he did a really good job and was a big part of us getting back in the game.”
That’s Buycks’ strength and his ticket to finally securing a spot on an NBA roster following brief stops with Toronto and the Lakers after going undrafted out of Marquette in 2011. At 29, he’s developed a feel as a pick-and-roll operator with an accurate mid-range jump shot, the ability to get to the rim and an improved 3-point shot.
“I know every game he comes in, he’s going to be aggressive,” Reggie Bullock said. “I tell him to be aggressive. He’s one of my close friends on the team. It’s always good to see him come in and play well and continue to be aggressive and just play his game.”
At some point over the remaining four games of a six-game road trip that continues Saturday at Portland, the Pistons might get Jackson back. He’s missed the last 35 games after tearing ligaments in his right ankle. The reality is it’s probably too late to make up the 5½ games in the standings that separate the Pistons from the No. 8 playoff spot, but it would give Jackson, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond – the core around which Van Gundy hopes to build – a head start on building chemistry for next season.
So the clock is again ticking on Dwight Buycks, who has learned to ignore it after a lifetime of playing for his job.
“He brings a lot of energy when he comes off the bench,” Drummond said. “He’s instant offense when he comes in. He’s eager to score and he makes the right plays when he’s on the floor. A great professional and a hell of a game for him tonight.”