Pistons depth at power forward gives SVG myriad lineup combo options

Anthony Tolliver brings great 3-point shooting and solid defense to the mix at power forward for the Pistons.
Nathaniel S. Butler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – In the old days of the NBA – six, seven years ago, way back – the Pistons depth chart at power forward might have been labeled as crowded and considered a roster imbalance.

In today’s NBA, with coaches more often than not willing to roll out their best players and let the other bench worry about matchups, not so much.

So it’s to be expected that we’ll see two from the four-man group of Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer, Henry Ellenson and Anthony Tolliver playing together at times. And it wouldn’t surprise to see three of them out there at the same time, either.

“I will do whatever in the heck it takes to get on the court,” Tolliver said. “That’s what I’ve done my whole career. There was a three-year period where I probably played a total of 20 minutes at the four. I played all three.”

Stan Van Gundy expects to play Jon Leuer at center a lot more often this season than last, alternately using him or Boban Marjanovic behind Andre Drummond as the situation warrants. He’s also open to playing Ellenson there after the 20-year-old achieved his off-season goal of adding strength to better hold his position.

Harris is a true hybrid forward, equally capable of creating mismatches for himself at small forward as at power forward. And Tolliver, Van Gundy thinks, can be used at any of the three frontcourt positions, going at center in the frequent lineups that now feature perimeter-shooting big men.

“It’s whatever Coach wants to do. There’s going to be certain matchups where it’s not going to make sense to put me at the three; others, it might,” Tolliver said. “Whether it be a stretch five or three – put Jon in, me, Tobias – we could have different lineups where there’s multiple of us on the court at the same time.”

Van Gundy called it the deepest position on the roster during the first week of training camp, lauding the performances of all four players.

“As a group, they’ve been really good. They’ve all played well – Jon, Henry, A.T., Tobias, obviously. Those guys have all been really good. They’ve all shot the ball really well. Maybe they’ve got a deal going with each other. That hadn’t occurred to me. But they’ve also done a good job moving the ball and, I think, to a little bit different degrees, have done a pretty good job defensively in terms of communication and stuff.”

Harris is the most accomplished and could wind up the team’s leading scorer. At power forward, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to take bigger players off the dribble with the Pistons getting him the ball up top with space to operate. At small forward, he’ll be more along the baseline and able to post up smaller players.

Tolliver is the best perimeter shooter who stays in his lane and plays solid, responsible defense. Leuer is the best defender and rebounder and an effective mid-range shooter. He’s coming off a down season from the 3-point arc but made 38 percent in 2015-16 with Phoenix. And Ellenson has immense scoring potential and great size for the position with rare ability to put the ball on the floor.

“We’re deep – very deep,” Tolliver said. “We have guys that can kind of do everything. We each bring a different flavor to the table. That’s only going to bode well for our team.”