If there’s a magic fix for Pistons, it’s getting the ball hopping on offense, SVG says

There’s rarely a one-step solution at hand for an NBA coach, but there’s almost always something that deserves prioritization. Stan Van Gundy has identified it for the Pistons to pull them out of a mini-malaise that’s resulted in two straight losses, seen a backslide on defense and – in Saturday’s 99-93 loss to Boston – a return to the offensive form that cost them some November wins.

“One of the things that was pretty evident watching the film and talking to everybody this morning is when the ball doesn’t move – when we don’t pass the ball freely – it sets a lot of things in motion,” Van Gundy said after Sunday’s practice. “Frustration that leads to less effort defensively, all of that comes together. The biggest thing we can do right now is to pass the ball more – pass it better, pass it more, get everybody involved and then I think everything else will come from that.”

It’s something that all five players can help implement, but there’s no doubt about where it must start – with Reggie Jackson. That would be the case for the starting point guard for nearly every NBA team, but it’s especially true for the Pistons given how much the ball is in Jackson’s hands whenever he’s in the game.

“Reggie’s got a very tough job. I said that to him today,” Van Gundy said. “He has to walk a tightrope. We need him on the attack. We need him to score and he’s also got to keep everybody else happy. That sounds like a real easy thing to do – actually, it doesn’t even sound that easy, I guess – but it’s a very difficult thing to find that balance. He’s got a scorer’s mentality and we need that, but at the same time he’s got to throw the ball to open people.”

Defenses that work best in cohesion, that limit Jackson’s penetration without overcommitting help defenders, make Jackson’s decisions less black and white than various shades of gray. Maybe it comes naturally to a rare few gifted natural playmakers – think Magic Johnson, John Stockton or Chris Paul, perhaps – but for most it’s always a work in progress. And Van Gundy keeps reminding himself that Jackson is a first-year starting point guard.

“You have a lot of point guards in this league who are either scorers now or have always been,” Van Gundy said. “A lot of guys who weren’t pass-first guys coming up – (Russell) Westbrook, (Stephen) Curry. They’re really good players. There’s nothing wrong with having a scorer in that position, but you’ve got to make plays to open people and keep everybody involved. It’s a hard job. Let’s face it. Russell Westbrook’s one of the top four of five players in the league and there’s nobody more criticized than he’s been because people don’t feel he passes the ball enough. Yet they need him to score, so where’s the line?”

As a symptom of their issues with ball movement, Pistons starters – statistically among the top five-man units in the NBA all season – have gotten the team off to sluggish starts for the past three games. Van Gundy pulled them aside as a unit Sunday to find a remedy. He liked the response it elicited.

“They actually did a lot of talking as time went on. They were a little quiet at first,” he said. “Ersan (Ilyasova) had a lot to say. Marcus (Morris) had a lot to say. The other guys had a little bit to say, but I think that’s to be expected – the two oldest guys had the most to say about playing the right way and playing together and sacrificing individual goals for the team, that type of thing. I have faith in those guys, but again, two of those guys weren’t with us last year. Reggie was with us a third of the year. They’re young guys. Things take time. You don’t want them to take time, but they take time.”