With Pistons schedule firming up, SVG ponders tinkering with lineup

Jon Leuer
Jon Leuer missed Saturday’s game with back spasms, but might be a candidate to move into the starting lineup
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

No starting lineup was more stable and almost none as productive as the one the Pistons put out last season. Before the All-Star break, that meant Ersan Ilyasova at power forward; after it, Tobias Harris.

They haven’t recaptured their karma this season and Stan Van Gundy was going to take Sunday’s off day to mull what to do about it.

“We’ve definitely got to look at some things, lineup and rotation wise,” he said after Saturday’s loss to Indiana. “That unit is clearly not working, at least not right now. The question is how long do you stick with it.”

The Pistons have gone 3-5 in the eight games since Reggie Jackson’s return with only two of those games – Chicago and Charlotte – coming against teams with winning records at the time of the game. But Van Gundy says issues with the starting unit predate Jackson’s return.

“In fairness, that lineup – even before Reggie came back – the starting lineup with Ish was outscored by opponents, too. Not by as much, but outscored by opponents. So that has not been as good a lineup.”

With the schedule again turning – the six games to close 2016 come against teams with .500 or better records – Van Gundy and his players exhibited a sense of urgency after Saturday’s loss. Players held a team meeting that kept doors to the locker room closed to media for 45 minutes, 30 minutes longer than usual.

“That’s what really got us to call a meeting was our schedule coming up,” Harris said. “We have to get on top of it. We need to be better all around. We’ve got to play harder and we’ve got to play more as a unit.”

Van Gundy identified one issue – and players concurred – as frustration on the offensive end spilling over to the defensive side. Some of it stems from the ball not moving enough, some of it from players simply struggling to score.

The tightrope Van Gundy must walk, though, is finding a lineup change that offers hope of addressing the issues instead of just throwing darts at a board.

“We have to look at some things, but you want to make a move for a well-thought-out reason,” he said. “Something that you think could help, not just, well, we’ve got to make a change so we’ll just change anybody. That’s where we’ve got to give it some thought, but, yeah. I’m not happy with that unit at all.”

If any change is made, it seems likely it would involve Harris or Marcus Morris. Andre Drummond isn’t coming off the bench and neither is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who leads the Pistons in plus/minus rating for the season. There really is no strong alternative to him, at any rate. Jackson’s current struggles aside, he was a legitimate All-Star candidate last season and there’s no reason to expect he won’t play at that level again.

That leaves Harris or Morris, two virtually interchangeable players of similar size and with fairly similar skill sets. Jon Leuer has been as consistently productive as any Pistons player and has arguably been their best player over the past few weeks.

But the back spasms that sidelined Leuer for Saturday’s game could at least delay any decision Van Gundy might make on his lineup. And with Sunday a day off following the season’s seventh back-to-back set, Van Gundy might be reluctant to make a lineup change without any practice time to see it through.

“We have to look at everything,” Van Gundy said. “This lineup has not played well. Even in the games we’ve won, that lineup has not played well. So how long are you going to call it an adjustment phase and trot ’em out there or do you make a change? That’s the question we’ve got to answer before Monday or before Wednesday or whatever else. We’re going to play some really quality opponents, so this kind of play continues it could get pretty ugly pretty quick.”


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