Auburn Hills — As Tuesday’s NBA regular-season opener approaches for the Pistons, coach Stan Van Gundy is taking the final steps in shaping the roster and deciding on a starting lineup.
He’s shifted between starting a bigger lineup with Marcus Morris at small forward and Ersan Ilyasova at power forward for the first three exhibition games, and rookie Stanley Johnson at small forward and Morris at power forward for the last two.
But Van Gundy’s mind seems to be made up, at least for now.
He said his starting lineup for Wednesday night’s preseason matchup against the Charlotte Hornets at The Palace would be Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Morris, Ilyasova and Andre Drummond.
“If the season started today, that’s who I’d start,” Van Gundy said. “That’s our best lineup right now. It gives us a little more size and a little more experience. That’s where my comfort level is right now.”
Van Gundy emphasized, though, that Johnson, who is averaging 15 points in the preseason, would be in the mix with the starting group throughout the game and would play significant minutes.
While Morris was brought in to help groom Johnson and ensure that he wouldn’t have to start from the beginning of the season, Johnson has opened some eyes with his play. Coming off the bench, Johnson will provide a scoring spark and mesh well, giving them a bigger starting five.
Ilyasova has scored in double figures in three of the five preseason games, so there’s not much dropoff offensively, regardless of the starting frontcourt.
“I don’t think you’ll see much difference in the minutes with Stanley and Marcus and Ersan,” Van Gundy said. “From night to night, it may be different based on who we’re playing, but my guess is you won’t see much difference in their total minutes.
“(Johnson) will play a lot with that first group, too. I’m pretty confident with any of those guys in there.”
With so many new pieces to the roster, Van Gundy has tried to play his starters more, to try to establish chemistry among the main rotation. He isn’t worried about minutes, though, as he’s stretched all of the starters enough to get ready for the start of the regular season.
“If you look around the league, we’ve probably played our guys a few more minutes than everyone else has — and that’ll probably continue, to some degree,” he said. “Andre’s playing over 30 minutes a night, Reggie’s playing over 30.
“KCP is the only one we haven’t extended out, because we’ve been trying to look at some other guys. Everybody’s been pretty much where they’ll be.”
Smaller lineups tried
As Van Gundy tinkers with lineups, he’s incorporating smaller lineups, as the NBA is trending. That includes putting Morris or Jackson at power forward — and they’ve garnered some mixed results in the early going.
Morris as the big forward has taken some time to adjust, posting a preseason-low six points in the first game in which he was matched with Johnson in the starting group. He followed with 10 points and a preseason-low two boards against the Bulls on Sunday.
“He’s still not fully comfortable when we move him to the (power forward) spot; he’s more comfortable at the (small forward),” Van Gundy said. “It’ll still take some time and he’s valuable because he can get a shot whenever he wants and shoot it at a very high percentage.”
As for an ultra-small lineup, Van Gundy said that they’ve been using Johnson — at 6-foot-7, 245 pounds — in some groupings as the power forward.
Dodge Atrium at Palace
Palace Sports & Entertainment announced a new partnership with Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles that includes exclusive naming rights to the West Atrium at The Palace of Auburn Hills — which now will be called the Dodge Atrium.
It houses the Dodge Ticket Store as well as the Pistons Locker Room Store.