Van Gundy praises play of Johnson, Hilliard filling in

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — It’s a small sample size, but Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy has been pleased with how rookies Stanley Johnson and Darrun Hilliard have handled heavier workloads the past week.

After guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope suffered a core muscle strain Feb. 3, Johnson slid into the starting lineup the last three games, while Hilliard has seen an increased role off the bench.

Entering Wednesday’s game against the Nuggets, Johnson has averaged 13.7 points and eight rebounds in roughly 38 minutes during the three-game span. He had a career-high 22 points against the Knicks on Feb. 4, followed by a 14-point, 10-rebound performance against the Pacers on Feb. 6.

Then on Monday against the Raptors, Johnson finished with five points (2-for-9), five rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes.

“He didn’t have a good game last game, but he still looked like an NBA player,” Van Gundy said of Johnson. “I think the minutes over the last five games have gotten to him a little bit.

“But until you go through that, playing every other night with one back-to-back coming against Boston and New York, and doing all those things for the first time at those kind of minutes, it’s different and you feel it.”

Hilliard has averaged 9.3 points on 54.5 percent shooting in 20 minutes as one of the first players off the bench during the span, a major bump from his season averages of 3.6 points on 42.4 percent shooting in 8.5 minutes. He scored a career-high 13 on Monday, showing flashes of his offensive potential during a stretch where he scored seven straight.

“(Hilliard) can play off the dribble, shoot the ball, and he understands how to create shots both for himself and other people,” Van Gundy said. “He’s definitely ambidextrous and can do a lot. He’s great with his right hand anywhere inside 10 or 12 feet and can pass with either hand. He’s got some good skills.”

Ilyasova out again

Forward Ersan Ilyasova (illness) missed his second start after not participating in Wednesday morning’s walk-through.

Anthony Tolliver took over his spot.

Ilyasova is averaging 11.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 52 starts, while Tolliver recorded five points and two rebounds in 35 minutes in his lone start.

Forward Reggie Bullock also was ruled out after having surgery Wednesday to repair a broken nose, leaving the Pistons with four players (Hilliard, Johnson, Tolliver and Marcus Morris) to play the 2, 3 and 4 spots.

Jackson aids Flint

Tolliver and point guard Reggie Jackson traveled to Flint on Tuesday where they met members of the National Guard, visited several fire stations and helped deliver bottled water to those affected by the water crisis.

“I just wanted to go out and do my part,” Jackson said. “It got a little slow during the night for us, but I just wanted to be a helping hand.

“It was real leadership on Anthony’s part setting it up and taking initiative in getting it done, so I just wanted to go out there, help him and help in any way.”