Stan Van Gundy admits he’s never completely happy. But after the Pistons closed the preseason with a 109-103 win over Philadelphia, he also said he had no real complaints.
With an asterisk.
“There’s things to work on, but I’ve got no disappointments,” he said. “I think they’ve worked hard. The disappointments have been things out of their control.”
First, the injuries to Jodie Meeks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. To compensate, Van Gundy got around to a Brandon Jennings-D.J. Augustin backcourt that was dynamic in a 13-point fourth-quarter comeback to win at Atlanta in their most recent preseason game, so Van Gundy – naturally – wanted another look at it in the finale.
But Jennings showed up at Thursday’s shootaround with a sore left Achilles tendon and sat out the game.
Van Gundy might have rejiggered the lineup at that point to get more of a feel for the big lineup of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith ... except Monroe won’t be available for the first two regular-season games – serving a two-game NBA suspension – so Van Gundy chose to sit Monroe and work in newcomer Joel Anthony instead.
Now the good news. None of the injuries are long term, Meeks the most serious with a back injury that will sideline him until mid-December or slightly later. The Pistons made 15 triples against Philadelphia, evidence of both the roster overhaul Van Gundy undertook and the spacing for which he’s heralded. And Spencer Dinwiddie made his debut against Philadelphia and looked, well, let’s turn to the Pistons’ elder statesmen, Caron Butler.
“He was really good. He’s really, really talented. I’ve been telling folks around the league, ‘We’ve got a nice little steal right there with Spencer.’ He can really do it all. He can shoot the ball. He’s clever – he’s extremely clever. I don’t want his head to blow up, so I try to keep it to myself, but he can play the game of basketball.”
Dinwiddie was capped at 20 minutes by Van Gundy’s medical team, but forces of nature kept him at 15:33 – essentially playing the last five minutes of each of the first three quarters.
The first time he touched the basketball, he drained a 3-pointer. The second time he touched it, he penetrated and threaded a pretty pass to Drummond for a dunk. Not long after, he hit another triple. Dinwiddie finished with eight points, six assists and two turnovers.
“I thought his first five minutes were really, really good,” Van Gundy said. “I thought he got tired as the game went on and sort of flattened out everything, didn’t attack, and fatigue was an issue. It’s one thing, practice, but the adrenaline and everything else, I think he got tired.”
“There’s nothing like actually playing in a game,” said Dinwiddie, playing in his first since returning to practice last week in his recovery from a torn ACL while a junior at Colorado. “Our practices are very hard. They’re long, but there’s still nothing like playing in an actual game. When I hit that first five-minute stint or so, I was tired.”
More than tired, though, he was euphoric at coming back and putting all fears surrounding his knee to bed.
“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be. That’s probably because I felt so blessed to be able to play. If I hadn’t had my injury and I was just a regular guy going into my first NBA game, I probably would have been a lot more nervous, but I was like, man, this is a blessing to be able to play basketball because I haven’t been able to do it.”
The Pistons hope the flow of bad news is slowed to a trickle by the time Dinwiddie returns to Colorado for next week’s opener at Denver. They hope that Caldwell-Pope takes over at shooting guard and stabilizes not only that position but small forward and point guard, as well, where Van Gundy has borrowed players to fill the void.
But Dinwiddie showed him enough in his debut to put him in play as part of the solution, too.