Milwaukee — Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy looked as if he had gone through the entire deck of cards in playing solitaire, trying to find the card he needed.
Through the Pistons’ first 13 games, the Achilles’ heel has been the bench production, which has been up and down — and down again in Saturday’s loss to the Washington Wizards. The Pistons reserves were outscored by the Wizards’, 51-15.
Even more shocking was the plus/minus rating of the starters, who were plus-59 against Washington. It’s a vexing situation for Van Gundy, who is trying to hold things together until guards Brandon Jennings (Achilles rehab) and Jodie Meeks (toe fracture) can return to the lineup. Jennings has been working out with the team, but isn’t expected back until around Christmas. Van Gundy said Meeks’ rehab is progressing but he’s still at least two months from returning.
“He’s out of the boot and into shoes, which is good,” Van Gundy said Monday. “We’re looking at All-Star break for him, so it’s still a long way.”
Until then, though, Van Gundy is shuffling the deck and trying to find alternate combinations that could work out. He’s tried using starting forward Marcus Morris more with the second unit and more recently, running Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Reggie Jackson more with the reserves.
So far, nothing seems to be working.
“I’m always thinking about stuff — thinking about what to run, who to play, everything. You’re always looking at things,” Van Gundy said. “There’s options; we’ve got good players and they’re playing hard. I have to find a way to rotate them better and to maybe help them in some of the stuff we run offensively.
“That’s my responsibility. We’ll keep trying to work on it.”
Forward Anthony Tolliver is 0-for-10 from the field in his last three games, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers. He’s shooting 25 percent on field goals and a woeful 26 percent on triples this season, a stat that will have to turn around for him to be effective.
Though Tolliver provides good defense against power forwards, his bread-and-butter is his outside shooting, and it has been a concern.
“It’s frustrating for him; he’s a much better shooter than what he’s shown,” Van Gundy said. “You get in these slumps and it becomes mental and that’s when it becomes a little bit scary and you have to work your way out of it.
While Van Gundy has shifted to using Spencer Dinwiddie instead of Steve Blake at point guard, he’s still looking to add some scoring punch, as rookie Stanley Johnson gets more acclimated.
Reggie Bullock, who had a good preseason, has struggled as well, going 1-of-8 on 3-pointers this season and 0-of-7 on field goals in his three games. With the injuries to Meeks and Jennings, it’s a tough spot with few other guard options on the roster.
Rookie Darrun Hilliard, a second-round pick, has yet to see any game action this season, but could be the next choice for Van Gundy.
“He’s ready,” Van Gundy said. “He’s a young guy but we get a look at him every day and he’s been playing well in practice. He may get a shot here soon.”
Van Gundy was frustrated with the execution on the final play of the Wizards game, where the Pistons trailed, 97-95, with 9.2 seconds left. Jackson got the inbound pass and ran a pick-and-roll play with Andre Drummond.
Drummond looked to pop open down in the paint but Jackson didn’t pass, instead opting to find Morris at the top of the key for an errant 3-pointer just as time expired.
“I don’t know if (Jackson) should have made the play to Andre or not,” Van Gundy said. “I just know we screwed up the play for sure.
“We didn’t run the play — that’s where my focus is.”
If Drummond would have been fouled on the play, he would have gone to the free-throw line and had to make both to tie.