No Bullock, but no clarity for SVG on which of 3 Pistons options to use behind KCP

Rookie Michael Gbinije is making a move in the fight for playing time off of Stan Van Gundy’s bench
Rookie Michael Gbinije is making a move in the fight for playing time off of Stan Van Gundy’s bench
NBA Photos
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

CHARLOTTE – Maybe sometime on the flight here – or sometime later Monday evening, or perhaps in his sleep – Stan Van Gundy found some clarity on an issue that’s been clear as mud to him since midway through training camp: the identity of his top backup wing player.

It was going to be Stanley Johnson. And it was. Until the second-year player, still only 20, struggled with the translation of his summer-long skills sharpening to action. Van Gundy and his cabinet still see a potential star in Johnson, but for now they need a reliable role player. And that’s been hit or miss.

Reggie Bullock got a shot after an injury-plagued training camp and early season, but promptly got hurt again. He’ll miss significant time with a torn left knee meniscus.

Darrun Hilliard brings a diverse offensive skill set to the table and was first man up in the Pistons’ most recent game, in which Johnson also got a taste. Nobody, though, has laid claim to the job.

“Nobody’s been bad,” Van Gundy said. “Everybody’s sort of been OK, but not great. You’d like to have somebody step up and really grab that spot and say, ‘Hey, give me the minutes.’ ”

Maybe rookie Michael Gbinije is that guy. He at least caught Van Gundy’s eye in Monday’s practice. He – along with fellow rookie Henry Ellenson – helped the Grand Rapids Drive to a win last Wednesday and Van Gundy was considering keeping Gbinije down for two more weekend games. But Bullock’s injury not only lessened the likelihood that Gbinije will be spending more time in the D-League, it also cracked the door for Gbinije to assume Bullock’s role.

“Mike really played well today in practice. I mean, he hasn’t had many bad practices,” Van Gundy said. “Pretty soon, it’s looking like he’s going to force our hand, anyway.”

Johnson has had flashes of the rookie who became a valued sixth man last season, but his shooting has lagged and perhaps compounded a larger issue with being too far on one side or the other of the line dividing aggression from passivity.

“He’s playing OK, but there’s nobody where you just say, wow, he’s got to be the guy,” Van Gundy said. “As a coach, you’d like somebody to do that – make your decision a little easier.”

Bullock, whose calling cards are 3-point shooting and ball movement, won’t get a chance to re-enter the fray until significantly later in the season. How much later depends on what he hears from a second opinion.

“He said he would know (Tuesday),” Van Gundy said. “They don’t know who they’re going to see yet. They’ve got two possibilities of guys they want to get another opinion from. They’ll make that decision and then we’ll go from there. I hope whatever we’re going to do, we’re going to do this week.”

And while Bullock ponders his decision, Van Gundy ponders his – made only slightly easier for him by the absence of one of his four options. As for Tuesday against the Hornets, late in the first quarter or to start the second, who gets the call?

“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

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