Leuer firms up power forward position for Pistons
Auburn Hills — Pistons forward Jon Leuer caught the pass in the left corner, just outside the 3-point line and was ready to go.
The defender ran out to guard him, but in a flash, Leuer got by him and rose, finishing with a two-handed dunk.
That Leuer made a good play isn’t the surprise — it might be more that he passed up a 3-pointer for a higher-percentage shot. After all, he was signed as a free agent last summer for his outside presence, hitting 38 percent on 3-pointers last year with the Suns.
But the dunk exemplified what he’s bringing to the Pistons — a stretch power forward who can put the ball on the floor, shoot from outside and play defense.
“That’s something I’ve felt people have overlooked on me for a long time because you get that stretch (forward) label and people think you’re just a spot-up shooter,” Leuer said. “There’s a lot more to my game than that.”
Leuer looks to have solidified the reserve power forward position, which was a merry-go-round that saw Ersan Ilyasova dealt for Tobias Harris at the trade deadline and one of the reasons the Pistons didn’t re-sign Anthony Tolliver.
At 6-foot-10, Leuer possess many of the same attributes, but when coach Stan Van Gundy saw the glaring need for a bigger body to guard the likes of Kevin Love and Anthony Davis, he looked to Leuer.
“Jon’s been a good, solid player,” Van Gundy said. “He’s played really well at both ends of the floor and rebounded the ball. We probably need to start building a little more offense to him.
“As I get to know him better as a player, we might need to build more into him. He’s got some things and he’s a tough match-up because he can shoot the ball, he’s got a great first step and he can go down low and be efficient too.”
While Van Gundy is looking for ways to get Leuer more involved, he’ll have plenty to choose from. Even in finding his own shots, Leuer is posting good numbers — 10.7 points and 6.9 rebounds in 26.8 minutes.
In his previous five seasons, Leuer hasn’t averaged more than 19 minutes, but he’s turned into a huge reserve piece off the bench without losing any effectiveness.
“That’s never really a focus for me, if plays are getting called (for me),” Leuer said. “What I’ve always found is the ball finds energy; if you go out and play with energy, you’re going to find yourself in good situations, whether it’s getting shots, getting rebounds or getting steals.”
Harris is the starting power forward, and Van Gundy likes the flexibility of using him and Marcus Morris, both 6-9, interchangeably, based on the defensive matchup. But, Leuer has provided the security of a traditional big man in terms of size, but also a stretch forward with some defensive mobility.
“Jon, like a lot of guys in this league, has been in a lot of situations where come off the bench and if you get it going, you’ll play more, and if you don’t, you go sit down,” Van Gundy said. “He’s figured out here he’s going to be out there and he doesn’t have to worry if he misses a couple shots. I think it’s easier for him to relax and play.”
The security of a four-year, $41-million contract also means Leuer will be around, giving Van Gundy stability at one of his most coveted positions. But there’s also not the concern of being bullied by bigger forwards on defense, which was one of the issues for the Pistons last season, especially against Love during the playoffs.
“Jon has a nice touch around the rim,” Morris said. “He’s found somewhere where somebody has confidence in him and he’s allowed to play.”
Early in the season, the lineup was in flux because of Reggie Jackson’s knee injury, which pushed backup point guard Ish Smith into a starting role and hastened the signing of veteran Beno Udrih as the backup. The piecemeal bench group — Stanley Johnson, Leuer and Aron Baynes — has been better than the reserves last season.
The problem is that it was a temporary situation. When Jackson returns, they’ll have to jell all over again.
For the time being, though, Leuer likes what he sees from that group.
“We’re still figuring out when we come in with the second unit, exactly where shots are going to come and where guys should be,” he said. “It’s going to take time. All of us haven’t all played together. It’s a work in progress and once we get that cohesive chemistry, that second unit is going to be good.”
That’s the confidence Van Gundy was looking for, to help the ailing bench unit.
“Stan has shown a lot of belief in me and I appreciate that,” Leuer said. “I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team whenever I get those minutes.”