SVG makes using ‘our entire roster’ a goal for Pistons in 2017-18

Even if Henry Ellenson has to fight three veterans ahead of him for playing time at forward, he’ll have a better shot at winning minutes next season.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Stan Van Gundy is among the majority of coaches when it comes to managing his rotation. But he’s trying to push himself into the minority.

That’s the perception, at least, gleaned from his response to a question posed earlier this week in a discussion about the merits of newly signed center Eric Moreland.

“One of the things looking ahead to the season – and it’s a challenge for me – I think we’ve got to do a better job of using our entire roster,” Van Gundy said. “And Eric’s different than (Andre Drummond and Boban Marjanovic).”

At the risk of extrapolating too much from that preamble to Van Gundy’s depiction of Moreland’s appeal to the Pistons, he appears more open to going into games with the possibility of using a different set of two or three players at the end of the rotation than the previous – or the next – game.

There are some coaches – Boston’s Brad Stevens comes immediately to mind and Toronto’s Dwane Casey, too – who often will use different players in the second half than the first, based on something he saw in matchups and tweaked at halftime.

The Pistons are going to have a minimum of two new starters next season, guaranteed, with Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope departed. Avery Bradley will replace Caldwell-Pope in virtually every way – from the minutes he plays to the likelihood that he’ll guard the opposition’s top backcourt player – but how Van Gundy makes up for the loss of Morris could be the portal to a less rigid rotation.

Van Gundy settled into a three-man rotation at forward – Morris, Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer – last season with the only real flexibility coming in the decision to start Harris or Leuer.

He could go that route again, of course, with Stanley Johnson replacing Morris as the starter at small forward. If Johnson takes the leap the Pistons hope – the one they expected he’d take last season – that would make it pretty easy for Van Gundy to resist the urge to change he expressed this week.

But what if Henry Ellenson shows at least as much year-over-year progress as Johnson? What if he closes the gap on Leuer? Van Gundy left Orlando’s Summer League saying Ellenson was ready to play.

Then it could be a four-man mix at forward with Harris likely to get 30-plus minutes every night and the other 60-some minutes carved up by the other three, varying nightly based on performance and matchup. Maybe some nights one of them doesn’t play much, if at all.

Van Gundy could also make the starting forward opposite Harris a game-by-game thing based on which matchup Harris could best exploit and whether Leuer or Johnson is better suited for a particular defensive matchup.

Or maybe even Harris gets in the starter/bench rotation. If the Pistons are playing Cleveland, for example, maybe Van Gundy chooses to match LeBron James’ braun with Johnson’s and Kevin Love’s size with Leuer’s and let Harris get his minutes punishing Cleveland’s defensively suspect bench.

Back to Moreland. As Van Gundy went on to point out, he’s about as far removed from Marjanovic on the center spectrum as you can get. On nights Van Gundy doesn’t think he’ll win the tradeoff on Marjanovic’s offense vs. his defense, maybe Moreland gets backup minutes behind Drummond.

Maybe some nights Langston Galloway is the easy call behind Bradley for the superior defense he offers, but perhaps against backup guards who don’t represent a significant scoring threat the call is for Luke Kennard.

And maybe on those nights and others, Galloway gets minutes against point guards whose size present Ish Smith with challenges.

Even in the ways the Pistons filled out the roster this week, with the reported but not yet official agreements with ex-Pistons Anthony Tolliver and Reggie Bullock, Van Gundy appears tilting toward making use of a deeper roster. Teams often sign younger, developmental prospects to those last few roster spots.

Tolliver was a rotation staple for Van Gundy’s 44-win playoff team two years ago and Bullock finished that season – including into the playoffs, before a leg injury shut him down – in the rotation, as well. They’re both above-average 3-point shooters. On nights the offense sputters, they’ll be nice options to throw into games to attempt to reverse momentum.

And Van Gundy is now on record as saying he’d like to explore his options more aggressively in the season ahead.