Pistons aren’t perfect but bench isn’t a problem

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Stanley Johnson

Auburn Hills – The Pistons’ bench posted its best performance of the year Saturday night, scoring a season-high 52 points in a 115-103 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

But including that outing, the Pistons still rank last in the league in bench points (26.5). Yet, coach Stan Van Gundy isn’t too concerned about the reserves’ production.

“I think our bench has actually been better than I thought it would be all year. We haven’t played them big minutes and then we had (Anthony) Tolliver and Stanley (Johnson) out for eight, nine games,” Van Gundy said after Detroit’s shoot-around ahead of Monday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

“(Aron) Baynes has had a good year, Steve Blake has had a good year, Stanley has had a solid year and gotten better as the year has gone on. Tolliver has been solid and Reggie Bullock gave us a good lift. I think our bench has been fine.”

Of the five main bench contributors, Johnson leads with 8.6 points, followed by Baynes (6.0), Tolliver (5.3), Blake (4.3) and Bullock (2.9).

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“Not to say you wouldn’t like to get to a point where you get a little bit more out of that, but those guys have played well and whatever problems we’ve had, it hasn’t been with the bench,” Van Gundy said. “I mean, early in the year it was the first few games, but it’s been a long time since I’ve pointed to the bench as a problem.”

As the Pistons close out the regular season with 12 crucial games in 24 nights, guard Reggie Jackson said it’s essential for the starters and backups to thrive and feed off one another.

“We know we’re in a tough stretch and we’re trying to get as many games as possible, and we need everybody’s energy,” Jackson said.

Mounting frustration

The Pistons rank 12th in the league in points allowed at 101.6, but have surrendered an average of 113.7 over the past six contests.

Most recently, the Pistons allowed the scuffling Nets and Sacramento Kings to shoot 52.5 and 50.6 percent from the field, respectively.

Van Gundy said that while most teams’ defense has gotten worse as scoring has gone up, he’s been disappointed with himself that the Pistons have regressed and he hasn’t been able to figure out a solution, whether it’s in preparation or game planning.

“We’re not giving up more layups, we’re not giving up more (3-point) attempts, we’re not giving up more free-throw attempts, we’re rebounding the ball but people are shooting an extremely high percentage and our turnovers forced -- that were never really high -- are down. Those are the two things,” Van Gundy said.

“We’re not doing a great job staying with shooters and challenging shots and we’re not really active with our hands. We’re not getting enough pressure on people. In a lot of those games we’ve shown the ability to get stops at crucial times and turn games around, but not consistently enough.”

Heating up

Guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has quietly been one of the Pistons’ most consistent players as of late.

Despite not being a focal point of the offense, Caldwell-Pope is leading the team in scoring at 19.8 points on 48.7 percent shooting over the last five games, well above his season average of 14.7 points on 42.4 percent shooting.

During that span, he’s also had an uptick in rebounds (3.7 to 4.2) and assists (1.8 to 3.2) while averaging 37 minutes.

“I think he’s making his shots, reading the defense well,” Van Gundy said. “He’s making good decisions when to shoot, when to drive, when to pass, which is a key part to anybody’s game.

“It wasn’t one of his best games the other night against Brooklyn (11 points, eight assists), but I played him the whole second half because I have a confidence level in what he brings to the table every night. I don’t worry too much about what the numbers look like for him.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins