Blake eager to resume backup point guard role

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Steve Blake

Washington, D.C. — The past couple months haven’t been easy for Pistons guard Steve Blake.

He’s had to get used to being something of a firefighter — always on call but not always needed.

After Brandon Jennings returned in late December and took over the backup role, Blake was relegated to the bench, getting only occasional minutes. Since Dec. 26, Blake has played in three of 23 games, totaling 12 points and two assists in 30 minutes. That included a 13-game hiatus between Jan. 18-Feb. 8 without seeing any playing time.

But Blake has made the most of those minutes, shooting 4-for-6 on 3-pointers — and waiting for his name to be called.

With Jennings off to the Magic in a trade for Tobias Harris, Blake is the new No. 2 point guard.

“Things always change,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play more minutes. I wouldn’t look at it as difficult, just have a learning curve to start off here. We’ll figure it out with someone like Tobias who has been around and knows the game.”

Coach Stan Van Gundy said he has full confidence in Blake, who was strong at times as the backup before Jennings returned from an Achilles injury.

“Steve had played more games as our backup than Brandon had,” Van Gundy said. “We were winning with Steve, so I don’t think that’s any problem. It’s just getting these new guys involved and Marcus (Morris) will play a little more at the 4. There are some adjustments for some guys, but it shouldn’t be anything too major.”

Blake is averaging 4.4 points and 1.5 assists, but his 36 percent shooting on 3-pointers — despite a 1-for-11 start — has been his biggest asset.

At 35, he’s been through any number of changes with nine teams, but remains ready to make a run toward a potential playoff spot. This transition with three new faces on the bench — Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton also were acquired in a trade — will be a challenge for him and the bench.

“You want (the change) to be quick but it could still take a little bit of time,” he said. “Hopefully it clicks right away. It’s still a process and we don’t know what the rotations are actually going to be. We should be able to be fine on the fly.

“We’ll be pretty good this second part of the season and the playoffs will be our focus.”

Johnson’s role is safe

With the additions of Motiejunas and Thornton, the Pistons are deeper and more versatile.

The problem is there aren’t many spots in the rotation to use all the players. As the status of Motiejunas’ back is gauged and the new players get settled, some of the natural lineups will start to take hold.

At least for Thornton, getting significant playing time isn’t likely, especially with rookie Stanley Johnson excelling as the backup shooting guard.

“For (Thornton) to play a big role, he would have to take minutes from Stanley and whether we want to do that, we’ll have to determine as we go,” Van Gundy said. “With Tobias and Marcus taking minutes at the (small forward) and if you’re going to give Thornton minutes at the (shooting guard), then Stanley’s basically not going to play.

“There’s not a lot of minutes; we can’t get major minutes for Stanley and Thornton and Marcus and Tobias and Motiejunas.”