Leuer’s output prods SVG to add plays; now both expect even more from Pistons addition

Jon Leuer’s elevation to the starting lineup helped the Pistons snap a 5-game losing streak with Monday’s win over Cleveland.
Kent Smith/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

MINNEAPOLIS – Stan Van Gundy has made noise about adding a page or two to his playbook for Jon Leuer since training camp. In Game 25, he put it into practice. Based on early returns, Pistons fans – and Pistons opponents – can expect to see a little more of it going forward.

Leuer didn’t have any luck from the 3-point line, going 0 for 4, but he was 5 for 6 otherwise and 7 of 8 at the foul line to tie his season high with 17 points in a 117-90 crushing of Minnesota on the road Friday night.

“We actually even ran a couple of plays for him tonight, which we have not done all year,” Van Gundy said. “I told you, we’ve got to start incorporating a little more into our offense for him. I think there’s more there even then we’re getting now. That guy’s a really good basketball player.”

Leuer, filling the most stable role of his six-year NBA career, is essentially the Pistons sixth starter. He’s sixth in minutes played at nearly 27 a game and fifth in scoring average at 10.6. He’s second to Andre Drummond in rebounding, averaging 6.6 a game. And he’s shooting 48 percent despite bumping along at well below his career norm from the 3-point line. After going 4 of 5 from the arc in the blowout win at Atlanta on Dec. 2, Leuer is 1 of 13 over his last four games.

The plays the Pistons ran for Leuer produced some open mid-range jump shots and he was instrumental during the critical stretch late in the third and early in the fourth quarters when the Pistons turned a three-point lead into a 21-point cushion in about a four-minute span. The Pistons put the Leuer plays in at the morning shootaround at Target Center.

“Regardless if I’m getting plays called or not, I just try to play with energy and the ball tends to find you when you’re crashing the glass and running the floor and playing the right way,” Leuer said. “You tend to get shots and the ball just tends to find you.”

So Leuer didn’t feel any urgent need to have Van Gundy dial up a few plays for him, but he interprets it as another sign of the trust he’s earned from not only his coach but the guy who pursued him in free agency as Pistons president of basketball operations.

Van Gundy said then and has repeated it often: Leuer is a player who caught his eye as a little-used rookie in Milwaukee when Van Gundy was coaching in Orlando. He and Otis Smith, then his general manager and now his assistant coach, tried to acquire him for the Magic; Van Gundy and current GM Jeff Bower made inquiries of Memphis and Phoenix in their first two years running the Pistons.

“Obviously, you like to hear that,” Leuer said. “I’m just glad we were able to make it work out. I’m just glad to be here and have the opportunity I have. I appreciate it every day. We’re just trying to build something special.”

Van Gundy expects Leuer to trend toward his career norm (.361) from the 3-point line. Given the minutes he plays and the spots at which Van Gundy inserts him, it figures Leuer is going to get about as much time with Reggie Jackson as he does with Ish Smith running the point. He’s got the game to thrive with either point guard, his perimeter shooting coming into play as Jackson hits his stride and begins to pull defenses into the paint to stop penetration, his athleticism and ability to run the floor an ideal complement to Smith’s pace-pushing forays.

If Leuer has caught the NBA by surprise – the contract the Pistons gave him drew some criticism, as the ones they handed out to Jackson and Aron Baynes also did before their play proved the front office right – he hasn’t raised Van Gundy’s eyebrows at all.

Well, maybe, possibly, a fraction of an inch at the defensive end. Leuer ranks a close second to Baynes in defensive rating among Pistons rotation players.

“I thought he was OK. He’s been better,” Van Gundy said. When Van Gundy fields what he considers his best defensive unit, Leuer is among its members. His size and mobility make Leuer an attractive defensive option against a wide spectrum of opponents. He’s an equally versatile player at the other end, too, capable of scoring at the rim, off the dribble or from distance.

“We’ve just thought he was a guy that if he got minutes every night could be really, really productive,” Van Gundy said. “I still think there’s a lot there that hasn’t been tapped yet. We’re trying to get him to be more aggressive offensively. I think there’s even more there than what we’ve seen. I think he can go beyond what he’s doing now.”

That’s nice, but it’s more critical that Leuer agrees.

“That’s big. Any time your head coach is telling you that, that’s positive. Helps build confidence,” Leuer said. “I feel like I can do more, too. I feel like I have more to show, even though I’m probably having the best year of my career. I feel like I can even play better and that’s motivation for me every day, too.”

It turns out Stan Van Gundy’s been right about Jon Leuer for five years. So it’s probably a pretty safe bet he’s right about Leuer’s capacity to give the Pistons even more than he’s provided over his first 25 games in their uniform. Especially now that they’re even calling a few plays for him.