SVG sees Leuer as key addition to Pistons roster suddenly deep in versatile parts

The damage Kevin Love inflicted on the Pistons in their spring playoff series made an impression on Stan Van Gundy and his front office. It was a contributing factor in their pursuit of Jon Leuer in free agency as a player with greater size to guard a variety of power forwards.

But Van Gundy didn’t stop watching the playoffs after the first round. And as they unfolded, another impression was confirmed for him. He didn’t need Leuer only to guard bigger power forwards; he needed his – and others’ – versatility to guard the dizzying array of lineup combinations teams used from one playoff series to the next.

“The thing that keeps coming home to me, the more and more you watch the league now but especially in the playoffs, you’ve got to be able to play a lot of different ways,” Van Gundy said. “Everybody thinks about ‘small,’ but then you see Oklahoma City go with (Enes) Kanter and Steven Adams together. Well, can you play big? Can you play with two point guards together? Can you play with no point guard? And maybe you can’t cover all of those things, but I think you want the flexibility and the versatility on your roster to be able to play as many different ways as you can. And I think we can do that now.”

Van Gundy sees Leuer as one of four players on his roster who facilitate the ability to play against nearly every conceivable lineup the Pistons could encounter over the course of 82 games. They’ve all been added since the end of the 2014-15 season.

“I don’t think there’s anything – at least on paper; you’ve got to play well now, too – but there’s nothing that we don’t have an answer for, that we couldn’t match up with. And Jon was a key part of that, his versatility in what we can do with him. Jon, Tobias (Harris), Marcus (Morris) and Stanley (Johnson). I think we’ve got four really versatile, multiposition guys. Those are the four guys that really allow us to adapt.”

One of the attractions for Leuer is the ability at 6-foot-11 to slide over and play center against the increasing number of teams that put a perimeter shooting threat at that position. Leuer provided the Pistons a memorable glimpse of exactly that element last November when he gave them fits at center in leading a Phoenix comeback – a game the Pistons would eventually win in overtime – with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists.

“The other thing with Jon that was really, really key to us is who’s our small-ball five man? And we didn’t have that,” Van Gundy said. “We were playing Tobias a lot at the four, who’s basically a three, or Marcus at the four, who’s basically a three. Well, that’s fine in today’s game, stretching ’em to the four spot. But stretching ’em into the five spot is a real stretch for a small forward. And so who was our guy? Anthony Tolliver, good player, but again, he’s only 6-foot-8 – he’s not even as big as Tobias. So we didn’t really have that guy that we could go to small ball with. Now we do.”

Leuer has never spent a full season as a member of his team’s rotation through stints with Milwaukee, Cleveland, Memphis and Phoenix. But Van Gundy became intrigued by Leuer during his rookie season with the Bucks when he played in 46 games with 12 starts and has kept an eye on him ever since. He said then-Magic general manager Otis Smith inquired about Leuer during his rookie season of 2011-12 when Van Gundy was coaching in Orlando. Pistons GM Jeff Bower made pitches to Phoenix in each of the past two seasons.

Leuer was off to a strong start last season, but when Phoenix fired Jeff Hornacek and replaced him with Earl Watson, Leuer’s role diminished.

“When Jeff was coaching him, Jeff was playing him every night and he got into a really good groove and played really good basketball,” Van Gundy said. “The thing that we noticed – you can go back all the way to his rookie year – when he’s gotten the opportunity to play regular minutes for any stretch of time, he’s performed very, very well. He’s struggled, like a lot of people do, when he’s gotten sporadic minutes. But when he gets regular playing time, he’s played very, very well.”

He’ll get regular playing time this season playing in both regular and irregular lineups as a big part of the added versatility Stan Van Gundy knows will be critical to Pistons success.