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Van Gundy keeping Pistons focus on the little things

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News

Oklahoma City — There probably isn't a bright side to the Pistons' slow start, considering the manner in which they've lost games, but Stan Van Gundy's big focus is on the small things they haven't yet mastered.

Along with the argument one could make that if Jodie Meeks weren't dealing with a back injury, it would certainly improve their shooting percentage — as well as balance out the lineups and lessen responsibility, putting players in more natural roles.

"What should be encouraging is to say we're not a long way off. We're not 30 possessions off," Van Gundy said before Friday night's game at Oklahoma City.

"The problem is finishing the game. It just hasn't gone our way. We've got to be able to rely on our defense."

Having fourth-quarter leads in every loss with the exception of Monday night in Chicago and the second game of the season in Minneapolis, Van Gundy has come to the conclusion of the last three Pistons coaches, echoing the same phrase uttered by Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer.

"We don't, right now, have the huge margin for error to give up nine, 10 possessions in the game and think we're gonna win," Van Gundy said. "The focus, for good reason, has been on the last few minutes. There's things we can do over the course of the game to get better."

For one, they're shooting just 41 percent as a unit, with Josh Smith and Andre Drummond not converting at their career rate. Smith, surprisingly, isn't converting at the rim as much, and aside from the first game, hasn't had games with egregious shot selection.

Still, shooting 35 percent, no matter the distance, is a cause of concern.

"You have concerns when your shooting percentage is low," Van Gundy said. "It's not that it's not a concern. Josh and I have sat down on a number of occasions about shot selection and by and large, he has tried to do what we want in terms of that. I don't think his shot selection has been bad. It's been eight games."

Drummond's start has garnered attention, as well, and Van Gundy acknowledges it's a challenge to keep the 21-year-old from getting down on himself.

"When you get off to a tough start there's a psychological challenge," Van Gundy said. "He had a real good preseason on the offensive end, hasn't had that going to start here. The challenge for him is to make sure of the things he can be great at, make sure his offensive struggles don't take away from those things."

Drummond hasn't rebounded at his usual high rate, which could be tied into his 42 percent conversion rate as a whole. Van Gundy, obviously, wants those two things to be independent.

"Don't let missing a few shots discourage you, take away from your energy and take away from where your greatness is," he said. "While his offense is developing and will become very good, his greatness is as a rebounder and he's gotta make sure that's consistent every night."

"That's not what Andre Drummond should be counting on every night. That to me, is a bonus. But he needs to get the ball off the glass. And he's got to stay out of foul trouble every night."

The Pistons scored over 100 points for the first time this season against the Wizards, so Van Gundy is hoping for another small push to get them over the hump, saying "winnable games, we're not asking for miracles."

"It's important to keep perspective," he said. "If you were playing pretty well and went through a stretch where you lost six of eight, there wouldn't be this angst and panic starting to set in. But when you're 2-6 to start the year and that's all you have to go on, everything gets magnified and that's what becomes a real mental challenge."