Pistons frontcourt will be fluid for exhibition games

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News

Detroit — The game of musical chairs in the Pistons' starting lineup will continue, as their next exhibition will feature Greg Monroe's return to the starting lineup with Josh Smith remaining in the first unit.

No, Stan Van Gundy isn't using all three of his talented big men in the starting lineup Thursday night against the Milwaukee Bucks — but he will before the exhibition season is over.

Andre Drummond will begin tonight's game as a reserve, while Monroe moves back to center, the position he played his first two full years in the NBA. On Sunday, Monroe and Drummond will start together against the Washington Wizards, the first televised preseason game (1 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit).

Monroe scored 24 points and added nine rebounds Tuesday, and has publicly tried to keep the focus off himself in terms of his starting status.

Van Gundy had everything scripted out for Tuesday's game against the Chicago Bulls, from the substitutions to the set plays, but though he's devoted plenty of thought to how he'll handle his front line, he hasn't figured out who'll start at what positions.

"I scratched out some ideas but not really," Van Gundy said at the Pistons' "Meet and Greet" at Campus Martius in downtown Detroit Wednesday. "I haven't decided the perimeter yet. I don't wanna change all five guys or you're not seeing different combinations. I'm trying to get a look the first three games."

Perhaps it's an indication that he has deep concerns about what to do with his starting frontcourt, despite public statements that it's not a major issue.

Power forward and center are the two most talented positions on the roster, and his choice of starters there will have repercussions on the rest of the lineup.

He's leaving the door open to playing Drummond, Monroe and Smith together in the near future. They'll play three games in four nights, all on the road.

"Then sometime in the next week, I wanna play with all three guys together," Van Gundy said. "I don't know how much, but a little bit. It'll change some things and we need some practice time on that."

Investing in the D

Van Gundy called the exhibition opener the "perfect" type of game, although he would have preferred to avoid overtime.

He liked the floor spacing and the way the players adjusted to each other, particularly against an established defensive team. But he found enough dislikes to use the game as a teaching opportunity.

"Even though our offense needs some work, we really gotta establish that we're gonna be a defensive team," Van Gundy said. "That's where our main focus is gonna be tomorrow in film.

"Until we establish that, we can't hope to be the kind of team we want to be. We had some good possessions."

Developing the Pistons into a strong defensive rebounding unit has been a point of emphasis in camp, particularly with Andre Drummond.

They were outrebounded 48-40, and the Bulls were without Joakim Noah, the defensive player of the year last season.

"We were sort of flat-footed, we didn't block people out," Van Gundy said. "We gotta take care of those things. Our three big guys have to establish the fact that we'll own the paint and nobody's coming in there."

He used the Bulls and Indiana Pacers — both division rivals — as examples for how strong defense starts from the interior. Van Gundy doesn't buy into the "perimeter defensive stopper" theory, so there will be more pressure on Drummond to become an intimidating force on that end.

"Any good defense is anchored by their bigs," he said. "Big guys really make your defense great and our guys will have to take that responsibility."

Bucks at Pistons

Tip-off: 7:30 Thursday night, The Palace of Auburn Hills

Radio: WMGC

Outlook: Former Pistons Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton are starters for the Bucks. … Shooting guards Jodie Meeks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope combined for 31 points Tuesday.