Will Bynum, left, pictured with coach Maurice Cheeks, scored 18 points in 33 minutes in the Pistons' win at Philadelphia, which broke a six-game losing streak. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — The burden of being a singular playmaker weighed heavily on Brandon Jennings, so it isn’t a surprise to see the Pistons go to a mini-backcourt down the stretch in their last two wins.
Neither Jennings nor Will Bynum would qualify as a classic, pass-first point guard; both are among the smallest point guards in the league. But Jennings clearly needed help in terms of creating shots in fourth quarters, so the two were paired together and the positives have so far outweighed the negatives.
Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks wants Jennings to mature and develop into a better decision-maker, but putting Bynum out there clearly eases the burden.
“Yeah he’s been screaming it for the longest,” said Bynum, referring to Jennings. “(Cheeks) found a solution.”
Bynum scored 18 points in 33 minutes in their win at Philadelphia, which broke a six-game losing streak. The diminutive Bynum, generously listed at 5-foot-10, is one of the physically toughest players on the roster — and isn’t a slouch in terms of mental toughness, either.
“I just need minutes. If I get minutes I’ll play consistently,” said Bynum, pointedly. “I play with heart and energy and that’s needed on this team. We don’t do that consistently enough. That’s part of the problem we have.”
He hasn’t had his usual burst of energy this season, battling a nagging hamstring injury that has caused him to miss a handful of games on two occasions and still “isn’t fully there yet, but good enough to be out there,” he said.
He followed up his performance in Philly with 16 points in 23 minutes against the Suns, who employed a smaller lineup in the fourth quarter.
“Defensively it could give you a problem, depending on who the other team has,” Cheeks said. “Offensively it takes Brandon off the ball some. It doesn’t always have to have the ball in his hands. He’s also one of our better shooters so Will penetrating and Brandon spotting up gives us another avenue.”
Jennings had a season-high 18 assists and continued to struggle from the field, making 4 of his 14 shot attempts and missing all five 3-pointers.
But he hit crucial triples the night before against the 76ers, and when he’s having an off night, the Pistons aren’t in such a feast-or-famine position with another point guard out there.
“It doesn’t always allow Brandon to monopolize the ball,” Cheeks said.
Jennings hasn’t always wanted to the sole provider of shots and it frees him up to be more of a scorer if need be.
“It helped a lot, just the fact there’s another ball handler in the fourth quarter,” Jennings said. “He does his thing and I do mine and we feed off that.”
It’s another example of Cheeks appearing to make adjustments after saying drastic changes could be in store, before the Pistons ended their losing streak. He’s employed smaller, but not tiny lineups while going against two teams that play small and fast.
“It wasn’t experimenting,” Cheeks said. “A lot of lineups were a product of Phoenix picking and pop guys and we could switch (defensively). We were just trying to negate their pick and roll.”
He seems to be more open to breaking up Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith as a group, keeping two on the floor at the same time.
He was asked which tandem worked best and he seemed to hedge.
“Probably Josh and one of the bigs on the floor,” Cheeks said. “Safe to say one of those guys on the floor than Greg and Andre.”