Auburn Hills — When the Pistons went after Ish Smith at the start of free agency, they sent a signal their biggest focus was on improving their bench.
After adding Jon Leuer and Boban Marjanovic, they had revamped a couple key areas of the reserve unit and bolstered their depth.
“Our organization shored up a lot of spots we wanted to fill,” Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson said. “We wanted to get bigger and taller and a little stronger at (power forward) for bigger lineups thrown at us; guys try to attack us at that position.
“We picked up Ish and we really felt like we shored up our backup position there as well, and we got Lorenzo Brown and Ray McCallum to battle for the third spot and we think they can bring something to the table as well.”
Although the Pistons have begun voluntary workouts, they haven’t had 5-on-5 scrimmages or implemented their key game principles. It’s still a little early to tell if things are meshing — but the early indications are the pieces can fit together to form a more competitive bench.
That’s a welcome development for second-year wing Stanley Johnson, who worked on improving his outside and mid-range shots and driving to the left.
“We’ve played and I feel like Ish is going to be something like Brandon (Jennings) with his ability to pass, see and change pace to get the game going — it’s going to be special to watch,” Johnson said. “Especially with guys like me and (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) running the lane.”
Johnson also had high praise for Leuer, who moves into the role Anthony Tolliver had last season.
But at 6-foot-10, Leuer adds some versatility and muscle on defense as well. Paired with backup center Aron Baynes (6-10), that’ll enable the Pistons to use a bigger lineup when warranted and counter some of the more physical power forwards in the league.
“Aron is much improved, can use his right and left in the post with a couple moves and he and I are always good in pick-and-roll,” Johnson said. “I’m excited to play with all these guys. It’s going to be interesting to see how coach (Stan) Van Gundy plays us because I know it’s not going to be a traditional first unit and second unit because we’re so talented and we’re eight or nine deep.”
ESPN’s Chad Ford was lukewarm on the Pistons additions, including first-round pick Henry Ellenson in the draft. Ford gave the Pistons a B-plus for their moves, not seeing acquiring Leuer as a big move to improve on their 44 victories.
“The Marjanovic and Smith signings give Detroit key upgrades off the bench that should help now,” Ford wrote. “Landing Ellenson in the draft should help down the road. However, I don’t see anything that suggests the Pistons will be significantly better than last year; the Leuer deal, in particular, looks like the Pistons once again are guilty of significantly overpaying, given the market.”
Johnson disagreed with that assessment.
“People can say we’re ninth, fourth, first or 12th — it doesn’t matter,” Johnson said. “All that matters is when we go out there and play.
“They’re grading us on the offseason that we didn’t get any starters. We got better in-house.”
The new pieces could present a quandary for Van Gundy as he tries to blend lineups. He could choose traditional first and second groups, but typically has kept one of the starters — either Marcus Morris or Caldwell-Pope — as a key scorer with the reserves.
That could change if the bench excels.
“Is there going to be a traditional second unit? It’s going to be hard to see a second unit for an extended period like last year, when we were eight minutes at a time,” Johnson said. “I’m excited for the season because we have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things.”
Individual game tickets
Individual game tickets will be available at noon today at The Palace box office, pistons.com, Ticketmaster outlets or at (800) 745-3000.
The home opener is Oct. 28 against the Magic, and opening-week meetings include the Bucks (Oct. 30) and Knicks (Nov. 1).