An open SVG heads to camp determined to find right Pistons lineup mix

Stan Van Gundy says he’s more open about his rotation than he’s ever been during his time as an NBA head coach.
Al Bello (NBAE/Getty Images Sport)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

(Editor’s note: today continues a five-part series looking at the biggest questions looming over the Pistons as they prepare for training camp to open this month. Today’s question: How successfully will Stan Van Gundy be able to implement his plan to go deeper into his bench and use players that produce matchup advantages?)

He admits it goes against his past and probably against his instincts. But Stan Van Gundy has never been one to shirk responsibility or believe in his infallibility. So when he says he goes into training camp committed to the idea of being more flexible with his rotation – more determined to use the breadth of his roster – it’s not a great leap of faith to believe he’ll do so.

The real question will become how quickly Van Gundy will be able to assess the effectiveness – or potential effectiveness, perhaps – of various units and two-, three- and four-man playing combinations within those units when he’s expanded his rotation from a fairly established nine-man group to a more transitory 12- or 13-man pool from which to choose that night’s options.

For the first time since Van Gundy came to the Pistons three seasons ago, he’ll have no one on the roster who comes to training camp with no realistic chance at some role in the rotation.

“I don’t have a depth chart put together,” Van Gundy said in late August. “I’m as open as I’ve ever been.”

If everyone comes out of training camp healthy and ready to go for the Oct. 18 season opener – Reggie Bullock must serve a five-game suspension to start the season – there will be a handful of players certain to have roles.

Reggie Jackson will be the starting point guard if he’s shaken the effects of last season’s bout of tendinosis in his left knee. Andre Drummond is a lock to start at center. Avery Bradley, the most significant off-season addition, will start alongside Jackson at guard.

The other two starting spots are up for grabs, though Tobias Harris is first in line and would only come off the bench if Van Gundy determines it’s best for the health of both the first and second units. Harris, Drummond and Bradley are all in line for 30-plus minutes a game and Jackson will be right about at that number, though Van Gundy has been careful in the past to cap his minutes in light of the burden of generating offense he carries and figures to be even more cautious given his recent injury history.

Stanley Johnson will be given every opportunity to play his way into that 30-minute cohort. If the light comes on, Johnson has the stuff to be a dynamic two-way player. Jon Leuer, Van Gundy believes, will be better prepared to sustain the production he logged before the All-Star break in his first season with the Pistons now that he’s attuned to the grind of heavy minutes.

Ish Smith flourished off the bench last season and held his own as a starter. But there’s wiggle room for him to be challenged by newcomer Langston Galloway, especially if Galloway’s time at shooting guard is threatened by forceful play from rookie Luke Kennard. Bullock is arguably the team’s best shooter and won a return in free agency when Van Gundy and his staff kept coming back to the fact that the offense consistently performed better with him in the lineup.

Anthony Tolliver is a steady defender and a fearless 3-point shooter who’ll fight for minutes in the frontcourt. Henry Ellenson will fight right with him after taking big strides off of his rookie internship.

Boban Marjanovic’s four-game trial run to end last season showed his intriguing offensive potential and he’s in the midst of a successful run with the Serbian national team, which has advanced to the quarterfinals of the EuroBasket tournament. Even Eric Moreland, the least likely to wind up with a rotation spot, has a chance to play because, at 25 and with prior NBA experience, he has the motor and demeanor to be a more certain defensive force than Marjanovic.

Not all 13 active Pistons are going to play every game, but Van Gundy wants to create an environment where all 13 go into each game ready if called upon – because he’s of a mind, for the first time in his Pistons reign, to use whomever the circumstances demand.