Two weeks before the Pistons open the NBA season, Stan Van Gundy went to unusual measures to address a persistent issue – well, as persistent as any issue can be two games into the preseason.
The issue: dysfunctional half-court offense marked by excessive one-on-one play and minimal probing past the first pass. Wednesday’s practice edict: No dribbling. Limited dribbling, at least. Only off of a pick and roll or to execute a dribble handoff.
“It was fun. Made guys think and really swing the ball,” Andre Drummond said. “I think it was really helpful and useful.”
Van Gundy’s overriding criticism of last season’s offense sounded a similar note. The Pistons managed it pretty well thanks to the dynamic playmaking of Reggie Jackson off of pick-and-roll sets. Nobody leaned on that most basic staple of NBA offenses more than the Pistons last season. But Jackson’s out, perhaps for a quarter of the season, and Van Gundy hears the tick-tock of the countdown clock.
“We’ve got so much improvement to make,” he said. “Offensively, our ball movement, our execution in terms of screening and things, have to get a lot, lot, lot better. We’ve got some major challenges because we’ve played out of nothing but Reggie’s pick and rolls, pretty much. Now we’re going to have to rely on getting more ball movement.”
Watching Wednesday’s practice likely made Van Gundy’s eyes hurt a little, as he knew it would. But he’s abiding by the adage that the definition of insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
“It was a very, very difficult practice for them because it was just going against everything that they want to do,” he said. “We struggled mightily with trying to play that way. You couldn’t drive the ball, so the guys who just want to put their head down and go on every catch were forced into some very uncomfortable situations. But as we told them, if playing that way worked then I’d be fine with it. But it clearly hasn’t, so we need to make some adjustments and to do that we’re going to have to give it some conscious thought.”
Adjusting to life without Jackson, integrating Ish Smith with the first unit and lubricating an offense that’s seized up for long stretches of both preseason games are front and center on Van Gundy’s mental to-do list with four preseason games remaining.
The things that fans are probably more focused on – the final roster spot and now backup point guard battle between Ray McCallum Jr. and Lorenzo Brown or the fight for a possible rotation spot between Reggie Bullock and Darrun Hilliard – aren’t really foremost in Van Gundy’s mind. He needs to get the group to a comfortable place, then that stuff will sort themselves out.
“Because of the way we’ve been playing, that hasn’t even been a concern,” he said. “I just want to get everybody in here playing the game better. We’ll make those decisions later. That’s not my concern right now.”