Pistons debut new lineup with Leuer starting
Auburn Hills — The suspense is over: the lineup change that Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy has been hinting at is a reality. Jon Leuer joins the starting group at power forward and Tobias Harris moves to the reserve group.
Now the Pistons can win the final 51 games and take the top seed in the East?
It’s not quite that easy or that black-and-white.
In the first half against the Golden State Warriors, Leuer had eight points and four rebounds in 18 minutes, as the Pistons led, 59-57. That included an improved contribution from the starting five, which totaled 39 points — and Harris added nine points and four boards in 15 minutes.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the Pistons with 13 points and Andre Drummond added 10 points and five rebounds.
While Van Gundy didn’t commit to the switch being a long-term change, he admitted he was trying to shake up the malaise that the Pistons have been in — at least for the 10 games since Reggie Jackson returned from his knee tendinitis. The Pistons are 3-7 during that stretch and are just looking to get some consistency as the calendar heads toward 2017.
“I don’t know if this is going to be a long-term thing. Right now, I have no idea how long we go with this or anything else,” Van Gundy said prior to Friday’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors at The Palace. “We’re just trying to find a lineup and rotation that works. We’ll keep searching as long as we need to.”
Leuer, 27, is averaging career highs of 11.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 26.7 minutes as the Pistons’ sixth man. Although he was lauded for his 3-point shooting (38 percent last season), he’s struggled from beyond the arc this season (30 percent).
But he’s been more effective inside the arc, hitting 60 percent and 89 percent on free throws.
Simply put, he’s been the Pistons’ most consistent and reliable player this season.
Leuer was slated to start Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies, but was involved in a morning car accident and after going to the hospital, played 30 minutes, posting 18 points.
Now, he’ll get his first start since his final two games last season with the Phoenix Suns. He signed with the Pistons as a free agent this summer, for a four-year, $41-million deal.
It’s been one of the unheralded moves of the offseason, but it’s been paying off for the Pistons bench. Now, Leuer moves to the starting lineup to try to create a spark on the offensive and the defensive ends.
“To be honest, it really doesn’t matter to me whether I’m starting or coming off the bench,” Leuer said Wednesday. “What matters is whatever five guys we have out there, we have to bring a different level of energy and intensity and defensive effort.”
The issue isn’t as much with Harris underperforming as with what Leuer could bring to the starting lineup. Harris’ scoring this season (15.6 points) is down about a point from his 27 games last season, but the Pistons have been falling behind in most first quarters and Van Gundy is looking to get a boost from Leuer, who is an inch taller at 6-foot-10, and a different type of rebounder and defender.
“It’s not a matter of effort; Tobias brings a good effort,” Van Gundy said. “We sit down and look at what we’ve had with Marcus and Tobias together for 570 to 580 minutes as our forwards and we’re right around 340 to 350 minutes with Jon with Marcus and Jon with Tobias. It’s a decent sample size.
“The best overall lineup of the forwards has been Jon with Marcus and it certainly has been the better defensive lineup, so that’s the way we’ve decided to go for now and we’ll see how it goes.”
Van Gundy reiterated that he’ll have to gauge how effective the new lineup is with Leuer and whether the impact that he’s provided off the bench can translate to starters’ minutes and effectiveness.
The rotation will remain the same, with Harris moving into the role as sixth man, with Morris and Harris interchangeable at both forward spots and Leuer still as a power forward.
“I anticipate Tobias will get there at six minutes into the game, like we’ve been doing with Jon,” Van Gundy said. “Overall, even though Marcus and Tobias have been struggling a little bit, we have a good set of three forwards and I’m not trying to go away from them; we’re just trying to change the rotation a little bit.”