Atlanta — Stan Van Gundy met with his coaching staff Wednesday to try to work through a dilemma: How to get more out of the starting lineup. The current conundrum is what to do to jump-start the first five, with a focus on the small forward position.
The answer was stark — move Reggie Bullock to the starting lineup and Stanley Johnson to the bench. The reasons were varied, but Van Gundy was resolute in his decision, while they’re mired in a long losing streak.
Bullock had six points and three steals in 18 minutes against the Nuggets on Wednesday — not sterling numbers by many measures — but it was good enough.
“I’m going to roll with Bullock for a little bit, as long as I get what I got the other night, in terms of the effort,” Van Gundy said Thursday. “We may have to change up and put one of our main four guys on the bench and change the rotation. I’m not there yet, but we may need to do that.”
Everything is on the table with the Pistons’ string of poor play, with a mini-break from the murderous schedule of above-.500 teams in the past two weeks. The choice of starting Bullock over the other options — such as rookie Luke Kennard and veteran Anthony Tolliver — is a reasonable question.
Van Gundy has his reasons, though.
“The reason Reggie Bullock is starting ahead of all the other wings is he’s the most conscientious guy of doing all the things we want to do — run, move without the ball, move the basketball, be in the right spots defensively and pressure the ball,” Van Gundy said. “He’s the guy who most consistently does those things; those things help those other four guys a great deal.
“The starting lineup was a disaster last game but he played well and did his job.”
It’s a big promotion for Bullock, who has played in just 13 of the 27 games this season, averaging 2.5 points and 1.1 rebounds, but his solid fundamentals keep him in consideration for playing time.
Van Gundy said each of the assistants had a reason that one of the wings should play but also other reasons why they shouldn’t. The roster has good depth, but also a weakness at small forward, and Bullock is solid and as good a choice as any of the others with his versatility.
“I’m just trying to stay ready. We have good coaching and they always stay positive to me, even if I fall out of the rotation. I know my number is going to be called again,” Bullock said. “I’m coming in, getting extra work in, even when I’m not playing and looking at what’s going on on the court.
“One of the things that helped me is the way I play and move the ball and run and add a different style to what the first unit plays with and speed up the game.”
Part of the motivation to start Bullock and keep the reserve unit intact is maintaining the flow that the second unit has. Upsetting the apple cart to fix the starting unit, Van Gundy said, creates the potential of creating two problems while trying to remedy one.
While Johnson isn’t playing up to Van Gundy’s expectations, it’s clear that he hasn’t given up on the third-year wing.
“He had a really good practice yesterday and I told him: ‘I want to see that every day,' and I asked him why can’t I get that every day. That’s my concern,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t get that energy all the time; I don’t get what I know he can bring on a nightly basis.”
In his last nine games, Johnson is shooting 27 percent from the field and 21 percent on 3-pointers while averaging 5.3 points and four rebounds.
Pistons at Pacers
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
TV/radio: FSD-plus/WWJ 950
Outlook: Indiana (16-12) has won five of its last six at home, including a victory over the Cavaliers. Victor Oladipo (24.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists) is having a breakout season since being traded from Oklahoma City.