Pistons' Van Gundy putting puzzle pieces together

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Stan Van Gundy

Auburn Hills — Last season, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy was just learning how to juggle his roster, which added several new pieces.

The Pistons got Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock, Steve Blake and Aron Baynes in the offseason, had to work in rookies Stanley Johnson and Darrun Hilliard and added Tobias Harris at the trade deadline.

This summer, the roster attrition continued, as they brought in Ish Smith, Jon Leuer and Boban Marjanovic in free agency, along with rookies Henry Ellenson and Michael Gbinije.

Now the task turns to fitting all the puzzle pieces together.

Because of the roster versatility, several players can be used at multiple positions, which Van Gundy sees as a strength. That could mean playing point guard Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith together or several variations, including wings Stanley Johnson, Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris on the floor at the same time.

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It’s part of the new look that Van Gundy wants started implementing on Tuesday, the first day of training camp. Even starting to put in some of the offensive game plan took longer than Van Gundy had planned on the first day.

“Marcus and Tobias and Stanley were going back and forth between (the forward positions). Aron Baynes and Jon Leuer played the (power forward and center),” Van Gundy said. “It’s a lot and it’s even hard to get half of it in because those guys’ brains start to overload.

“It’s a lot of guys playing multiple positions and it’s going to take time to get through it. A good part of what we put in today was not stuff we ran last year.”

The Pistons started two-a-day practices, so in Tuesday night’s session, they got a chance to add on and continue to build their knowledge base of the new plays in their various positions.

“We only got in three or four plays because we had multiple guys playing multiple positions,” Jackson said. “He feels we’re very versatile at the wing positions and we’re trying to get as comfortable as we can with the offense and understand what’s going on in each set.

“We might not get as many sets in as we want, but the best thing will be once we have them in, everybody understands where they need to be, how the flow of the offense goes and we can use our versatility to our advantage.”

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With so many players in transition last season, Van Gundy didn’t get to use all of the players in the roles that he had envisioned. Sometimes when he did, it meant giving players a crash course in trying to play that new position, such as Andre Drummond trying to guard a smaller Kevin Love on the perimeter in the playoff series against the Cavaliers.

That didn’t work out to the Pistons’ advantage, but Van Gundy is looking to address some of those issues before the season, instead of waiting until the opportunities present themselves.

“In my mind, I didn’t have our team prepared to do that in the series. Playing different positions or schemes, it’s going to be throughout the season. The problem with it is initially you’re not going to be as good as quickly in the first couple weeks,” Van Gundy said. “If you just did one thing defensively, you’d probably do it really well. Now you’re doing two things.

“Getting ready to go into the season, I want to be better prepared. I didn’t have us as prepared as we needed to be — and we’re going to change that.”

Van Gundy said trying to get all the players reps and their various positions will take longer and will be harder to absorb initially, but in the long run, it’ll pay off, because they will have seen all the different variations of their roles. It will mean more time in getting the offense installed and making sure everyone is comfortable and maybe not getting to all the pieces they want to address now.

But for Van Gundy, the benefit outweighs the cost.

“I decided this year we’re going to have those guys go through this all the time,” he said. “At least they’ll have gone through the offense and they shouldn’t have anything they don’t know.”



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