Auburn Hills — Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy pulled his starters together during Sunday's practice to talk things over. The ball movement isn't where he likes it. Point guard Reggie Jackson has lost balancing that fine line of being aggressive and setting up teammates.
The result has been the second-best starting lineup in the NBA is sinking to the middle of the pack. In the last five games, the Pistons low-energy starters have a minus-122 plus-minus ratio while opposing starters are plus-172. This is a complete reversal from when the Pistons' bench lacked energy and the starters carried the way.
Van Gundy admits that unfamiliarity and youth has made this group more inconsistent.
"One thing that comes up is their sense of really being connected as a group, taking responsibility for the group and being held accountable" Van Gundy said. "Those things all take time. They don't know each other well enough yet, that they can grab somebody and say something to them. They are certainly aware our energy isn't where it has to be."
Forwards Marcus Morris and Ersan Ilyasova, who happen to be the older starters, did most of the talking besides Van Gundy. Most of the conversation centered on ball movement, focus and not giving up defensively when the ball does not swing your way on offense.
"A couple of guys don't get open looks like they want and it takes away from our effort," Morris said. "It is noticeable. I think it takes away. We have to be professional at all times. We've got to play basketball the right way."
Morris disagreed that youth and unfamiliarity plays a role.
"Even though we have not been around each other at the end of the day it is just basketball," he said. "Everybody has been playing their entire life to get to this point. When you have not played with somebody you don't know their tendencies. We can talk about where somebody likes the ball. That's not the problem.
"It is about normal basketball. We are not playing it the right way and I think it is taking away from the other end. We are not holding each other accountable and we have to get better at that."
Andre Drummond and Jackson have become the leaders of this team. They support teammates, have dinners for them and give them a shoulder to cry on. However, they have not gotten rough with teammates during trying times.
Jackson only had two assists in Saturday's 99-93 loss to the Boston Celtics. He's had five or fewer assists in five of the last 11 games.
"Reggie has a very tough job," Van Gundy said. "He really has to work a fine rope. We need him to be on the attack, we need him to score and he also has to keep everybody happy. It is a very difficult thing to find that balance.
"He has a scorer's mentality. We need that but at the same time he has to throw the ball to open people."
Setting the tone
On the flip side, Van Gundy said he was very pleased with rookie Stanley Johnson coming off the bench. He nearly brought the team back from a 16-point deficit Saturday and his effort moved Van Gundy to give a lecture on leadership.
Johnson shook off a bad first half and brought energy to the building and his sluggish teammates in the second half. He wasn't trying to be the second coming of Isiah Thomas or Steve Yzerman. The young kid was angry to see the Celtics make a mockery of his team.
He wanted to put a stop to it.
"I thought it was disrespectful the way they were beating us," Johnson said. "It was like they had a game plan and everything was working. Everything was how they drew it up. Like (Celtics coach) Brad Stevens went to bed last night and dreamed how they would beat us and they beat us that way. And I was tired of watching it happen, so I kind of went out of the way."
Johnson deviated from the game plan by doing a one-man press. However, Van Gundy did not complain.
"Everybody wants to know what was said in the locker room," Van Gundy said. "That has nothing to do with leadership. Leadership is what Stanley did defensively. That gets people going.
"You have to do something. You can't talk about energy. ... You need to set a tone and I thought Stanley did that and got us playing a little bit."
Johnson said he was in desperation mode.
"I was like bleep it, if we are going to lose let's play hard and make it a game," he said. "And that is what we did. We made it a game."