Atlanta — In the offseason, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy had to tinker with the roster, trying to get the right mix of size and skill, shooting and defense.
With two draft picks and five new pieces, The Pistons are a different team than last year, especially on the front line, with new starting forwards Marcus Morris and Ersan Ilyasova. The pair combined for 34 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists in the Pistons’ opening road win, 106-94, over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night.
They combined for 10 of the Pistons’ first 17 points, including seven by Morris. After the trade with the Phoenix Suns, Van Gundy said Morris was the key piece, and he showed his versatility, hitting a variety of post-up shots and fadeaway jumpers.
Morris finished with a double-double — 18 points and 10 rebounds, five of those offensive — but shot only 6-of-19 from the field. Ilyasova was tough on defense, having to guard the Hawks’ big men, but had seven rebounds and three assists.
“Those guys both played well in the first game. It gives you something to build on but this league doesn’t give you any time to celebrate,” Van Gundy said. “(Morris) got off to a good start and he got us going.
“He struggled to make shots after that but he got on the boards, had double-figure rebounds. He fought really hard, so that was good.”
Morris was matched up against the Hawks’ 6-foot-5 Kent Bazemore and took advantage of the mismatch in the post early. That got the Pistons off to a good start and they rode the momentum into the second quarter.
“That’s how I want to start every game. (Van Gundy) does a great job of giving me the ball in the spots I like it,” Morris said. “He did a great job of continuing to come to me, miss or make. My confidence is very high right now. The more I play, the more comfortable I’m going to get.”
Morris had a different role with the Suns last season. In 81 games, he had 18 or more points only 11 times and notched only five double-doubles. His opening game with the Pistons — though it was only one game — was an eye-opener to how much he can add to a young roster of mostly perimeter players.
As the Pistons have worked to build their chemistry in the offseason, Morris credits some of their work off the court, with team-building activities and spending time to get to know each other.
“We had a hard training camp and we didn’t put as much work in as we did to come out and lay eggs,” he said. “We’ve been working really hard and it showed that we’re for real and serious and we’re going to keep trying to grind out games and try to win games.”
From the line
Andre Drummond, notorious for his struggles from the free-throw line, made a statement that he could be turning the page. After making just 39 percent last season (142-of-365), he went 6-of-10 in the opener, including four in a row.
“I’ve been working on that since May, so it’s really good to see how it’s coming through,” said Drummond, who was 6-of-16 from the field. “I’m not really thinking much at the line, just shooting the shot we’ve been working on all summer. I missed a couple but started stringing them out.”
Answering the call
Forward Anthony Tolliver was one of the inactives for the season opener, but he had a good reason for missing the game.
He flew home to Detroit to be with his pregnant wife, who delivered a healthy baby girl early Tuesday morning.
“They got the call at 3:30 (Tuesday) morning and headed home,” Van Gundy said before the game.
Van Gundy said he was unsure whether Tolliver would be with the team for Wednesday’s home opener against the Utah Jazz.