SVG’s Pistons overhaul adds depth, shooting, character

Depth, shooting, character. You want to sum up the achievements of Stan Van Gundy’s administration over his first off-season atop the Pistons organizational flow chart in bullet points, there you have it.

Van Gundy didn’t have a history with any of the holdover Pistons, so most of what he knew about what he was inheriting came from what he saw on videotape. It was no knock on the returning players when he said going into the draft and free agency that character would be prioritized in all acquisitions, merely an acknowledgment that the hard work of going from the lottery to a path toward contention would require good people– lots of them.

“From Spencer Dinwiddie to the five free agents we signed, I don’t think anybody questions the character of any of those guys,” Van Gundy told me last week. “That was the No. 1 priority.”

Van Gundy knew Caron Butler from his time as an assistant coach under Pat Riley in Miami when Butler broke into the NBA. He admired Jodie Meeks after coaching against him under Doug Collins in Philadelphia, where they ran a structured system not unlike the one Van Gundy will implement. Ditto for D.J. Augustin, who as a young player in Charlotte gave Van Gundy an eyeful in the heat of the playoffs.

Those three all shot 40 percent, give or take a make here and a miss there, from the 3-point arc last season when 45 percent of their combined shot attempts were triples.

“Shooting was a problem last year,” Van Gundy said. “Now, I think you could say of our perimeter players, if you had to look at them as a group and ask what the strength was, they can really shoot the ball.”

Andre Drummond got a taste of what being surrounded by above-average shooters can do for him when he took part in USA Basketball’s Las Vegas minicamp recently – he’ll be in Chicago later this week for two more practices and an exhibition game with Brazil – and Van Gundy said he and other Pistons big men will benefit from the shooting players like Meeks, Butler and Augustin provide.

“They’ll notice it the more they play,” he said. “You start to open up space for guys.’

Perhaps the most dynamic improvement made to the Pistons will be their depth, Van Gundy believes. That translates not only into more consistently holding your own or better when starters sit, but serves to increase the competitive edge of practices and drive the first unit to their best effort.

“We don’t have a guy who has been an all-NBA guy or a recent All-Star,” he said. “But right through the roster, everybody’s pretty good. We don’t have a major hole. Our depth, regardless of who starts – and I think it will be a very competitive camp – and however the second unit lines up, I think it will be one of the best second units in the league. There’s a balance, there’s a depth. We can survive injuries. I think we go even more than two deep across the board.”

Because of that depth and what Van Gundy believes he now knows about the players on his roster, he can say with more confidence what he promised in May when he was hired: The Pistons are going to play hard.

“Yeah, for two reasons,” he said. “The people we added all play very hard and very competitively, but I also think that’s the value of depth and balance. Our guys are going to push each other. There will be competition for playing time.”

Van Gundy says he holds no preconceived notions of a starting lineup or combinations of players.

“We’ve added some hard-playing guys that will help us raise the intensity level,” he said, “but I’m going into camp totally open-minded in terms of how it all fits together. It’s not necessarily your five best guys who start. What fans will see in preseason games, it’ll probably be different lineups virtually every night.”