Hearn’s NBA shot might come right now as Pistons deal with wave of injuries

AUBURN HILLS – In convincing an NBA team to crack the door for him, Reggie Hearn had a very important advocate: Jeff Van Gundy. And since the Pistons have a fairly obvious link, it’s probably not an upset that Hearn’s first NBA opportunity comes with the Pistons.

It might come even faster than Hearn believed since the Pistons offered him a two-way contract just two days ago. With questions over the availability of Stanley Johnson, Avery Bradley and Luke Kennard for Wednesday’s game at Toronto, Hearn could find himself playing meaningful minutes immediately.

“It’s been a whirlwind the last couple of days,” Hearn admitted after going through Tuesday’s practice – and then a one-hour crash course afterward with Pistons assistant coach Charles Klask putting him through the paces of various offensive sets and major defensive principles. “It was only two days ago I was a Reno Big Horn; now I’m a Detroit Piston-slash-Grand Rapids Drive member. But that’s the way this basketball world works. You’ve just got to be ready.”

Johnson practiced Tuesday after missing the last two games – and seven of the last eight – with a strained hip flexor muscle. But the Pistons didn’t do full contact so Stan Van Gundy, brother of the guy who coached Hearn with USA Basketball, isn’t banking on his availability. An MRI on Kennard’s left thumb, injured in Monday’s loss to Charlotte, revealed no structural damage but it’s swollen, wrapped and painful. Bradley is dealing with similar symptoms from the groin injury that cost him seven games last month.

Van Gundy didn’t anticipate having Hearn – or Kay Felder, the ex-Oakland University dynamo who also signed a two-way contract on Monday – at Tuesday’s practice. The plan was to be judicious with the 23 days they have available to spend with the Pistons.

“We didn’t really want to use them right now,” Van Gundy said, “but they’re here for an emergency and this is it.”

Hearn emerged as a Jeff Van Gundy favorite when he helped Team USA to a 5-0 record last summer in the AmeriCup competition, the first step to earning the United States a berth in the 2018 World Cup. The team consisted of mostly G League players, though it’s highly unlikely any of them will be rewarded with a spot on the World Cup team – when NBA players swoop in – or with a gold medal.

Hearn averaged 10.0 points and 3.6 rebounds and shot 48 percent from the 3-point line over the five-game tournament and was at the center of the rally from 20 points down in the second half to beat the host Argentines before 14,000 screaming fans. Those are the tools – 3-point shooting and a competitive edge – that put Hearn on the NBA radar.

“First and foremost, it would be my shooting,” Hearn said of the book on him. “This is a 3-point shooting league now. I think defensively I’ve been getting better, improving every year, and I think something that Jeff values from me is I like to do the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet – be where I need to be defensively, help the bigs rebound, run the floor, space the floor, create driving lanes by my movement for the guys who make the plays.”

Hearn, 6-foot-5, grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind., and had to walk on at Northwestern, moving into the starting lineup as a junior and averaging 13.4 points a game as a senior in 2012-13. He’s been fighting to make a team or crack the rotation or land a contract since leaving high school.

“I’ve always kind of felt like an underdog,” he said. “I’ve always had to grind my way to the top, so this is nothing new. This is just the next step in the process.”

In 14 games with Reno this season, Hearn averaged 14.7 points and shot 39 percent from the 3-point line. The Pistons actively scout G League games and last week got to see Hearn at the G League Showcase in suburban Toronto, where he returned Tuesday with the Pistons on the eve of what could well be his NBA debut. Hearn is pretty sure having Jeff Van Gundy championing his cause played a role in this opportunity.

“I think absolutely it was important,” he said. “I see a lot of similarities in the way they coach and even some of their mannerisms. I talked to Jeff a little bit before this all went down, talked to him after. I’m pretty sure that connection had something to do with it. I really liked playing under Jeff, felt like I understood his system and the way he liked things done. I think I should be able to fit well here.”

Stan Van Gundy acknowledged that his brother’s opinion mattered and that “he loves him,” but said Hearn earned this shot on his own.

“His opinion mattered a lot, but his play – he’s played very well in the G League. He’s a mature guy, an intelligent guy and somebody we think can step in in a pinch now.”