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Smith getting the feel of Pistons offense

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Olympic Gold medalist Claressa Shields is honored by the Pistons during the second quarter. Former Pistons player Earl Cureton is to the right.

Auburn Hills — The Pistons offense got into gear early in the first quarter but after that, it was a mixed bag in trying to get on the scoreboard easily.

Some of it was because of poor ball rotation and plenty of one-on-one plays, but it’s one of the focus areas for coach Stan Van Gundy early in the season. It’s a continuation of some of the issues in the exhibition season, where the scorers got bogged down in taking the ball straight to the rim and not running the offense.

That’s still a work in progress, but in Van Gundy’s pick-and-roll offense, the objective is to create open shots off the dribble through the penetration off the perimeter.

For point guard Ish Smith, it’s a simple set of marching orders — and one of his strengths. Through the exhibition season, he looked to find the balance between scoring and distributing, but as teams try to take away his driving and passing options, he has to knock down shots to keep the defense honest.

It started against the Raptors, when he hit a couple of jumpers, making them pick their poison with how they guarded.

“They actually started changing because at first they were just going under (the pick) and it’s no secret they did it all last year,” Smith said. “Once you start making them pay, they’re going to make adjustments.

“They don’t want you to get in the paint because that bothers them more than anything and breaks down a team’s defense.”

Smith was effective in his Pistons debut, with six points and seven assists. But maybe the most important stat was no turnovers, a trend that he continued from the middle stretch of his exhibition starts.

As Reggie Jackson recovers from his knee injury, Smith is gaining a level of comfort with the starting group, getting his teammates the ball where the want it. His constant probing helps him figure out how opponents are defending the pick-and-roll, so he can react and take advantage in future possessions.

While Smith was only 3-of-10 from the field, he knows that’s an area where he’ll have to improve. Four of those misses were from beyond the 3-point arc — not one of his strengths — but some were near the end of the shot clock and he had to hurry to get an attempt up.

With the continuous pick-and-roll plays, Smith can find a way to get closer, higher-percentage shots as he starts breaking down the defense. But he’ll have to get defenses to respect his jump shot in order for that to happen. That’s at the behest of the assistant coaches and Van Gundy, who want him to be a dual threat, much like Jackson.

“Because I do have confidence in that midrange shot, that’s why they tell me to shoot that,” Smith said. “That lets (the defense) off the hook when you just come off that and just shoot. We haven’t gotten many passes and we worked on some different things and me slowing down.”

That was part of the focus of Thursday’s practice, to get better reads and recognition of what the defense is doing, even if it means stretching out the play and getting deeper into the shot clock — if it can result in a better shot.

Even with his seven assists and no turnovers, Smith was fixed less on his individual performance and more on the bigger picture — the outcome of the game.

“(It’s) a loss,” he said. “Getting guys involved is my mantra. I love the balance of scoring and passing.”

Bullock out

Van Gundy said Reggie Bullock again missed practice and was out for Friday’s game. His back spasms kept Bullock out of the opener, but Van Gundy doesn’t think it will become a long-term issue.

“There was no structural damage when they did the MRI but he’s still not ready to go right now,” Van Gundy said. “We’re just treating symptoms but he’s not ready.”

Bullock wasn’t in Van Gundy’s initial nine-man playing rotation, but while he’s out Darrun Hilliard presumably is the next wing in line to get playing time.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard