Pistons’ starting forward spots remain up for grabs

Terry Foster
The Detroit News
Marcus Morris (13) is one of three players fighting for two starting spots on the Pistons.

Auburn Hills — There is no guarantee that rookie Stanley Johnson will be the Pistons starting small forward when the season begins in two weeks. But he has at least poked his head into the competition.

Center Andre Drummond, shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and point guard Reggie Jackson are the only three players guaranteed starting spots. Marcus Morris, Ersan Ilyasova and Johnson are fighting for the other two starting spots. The Pistons might play all three 30 minutes or more Sunday when the Pistons face the San Antonio Spurs in Texas.

That would give Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy a shot to see all of them in extended minutes and evaluate their progress. Who starts is not simply a matter of who plays best. Van Gundy wants to evaluate the bench and the rotation coming into games. Van Gundy said he might tinker with the lineup during the season based on matchups. But he’d rather settle on a starting lineup during training camp.

Before Johnson was drafted, Van Gundy said he wanted to draft a player who could start within three years.

Johnson is pushing that. He could also provide offensive punch off the bench. The Pistons are in evaluation mode right now.

“I think Coach puts someone out there he can depend on,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t want turnovers. He wants you to play defense. That gets you on the floor quicker. Once I learn how to do the right stuff and break bad habits my talent takes over.”

All three make compelling arguments for starting.

Ilyasova can stretch the floor with his three-point shot and the offense runs freely through him. However, he is not as strong and sometimes shrinks in the paint.

Morris provides toughness that this team needs. He too can stretch the floor and has been using a fadeaway jumper. Johnson, meanwhile, is inconsistent. However, he plays hard and can stretch the floor also. His strength so far has been in transition where he gets up the floor quickly and finishes.

“They are all three very talented players,” Jackson said. “They can help Andre and I stretch the floor and get involved. We all know that is how Stan’s offense is run. We are fortunate to have three players competing for two spots who are very essential for the game. Whatever happens, happens.”

Johnson said he is ready for whatever role Van Gundy decides.

“You have to be. That is your game and you make the most of it,” Johnson said. “Regardless of it I will make the best of the situation.”

NBA heavyweight

The Pistons play the Spurs, who are sometimes called the New England Patriots of the NBA. The team has won four NBA titles in the last 13 years and many experts believe the Spurs could unseat Golden State as NBA champions.

“Those championship teams are all good at both ends of the floor,” Van Gundy said. “They are not offensive or defensive teams. They are top 10 teams at both ends and certainly San Antonio fits that.

“By and large they are teams whose core has been together for a decent amount of time. San Antonio goes above and beyond that. I think you see an unselfishness. The ball movement thing has really come to defined the best offensive teams in this league.”



Pistons at Spurs

Tipoff: 4 p.m. Sunday, AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas

Exhibition records: Pistons are 2-3; Spurs are 0-3

Radio: 105.1 FM

Outlook: It is always tough to do a scouting report on the Spurs. Coach Gregg Popovich is more interested in resting a veteran team that could make a run at a championship. The Pistons’ Adonis Thomas and Cartier Martin must play soon if they want a chance of winning a roster spot.