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New role for Pistons’ Harris looks like smooth move

By Geoff Robinson
The Detroit News
Tobias Harris

Auburn Hills — When the Pistons traded for Tobias Harris last year, it was thought they were getting a player who would turn into a core piece of their young starting five.

That’s how this season started, and while it looked good on paper, it wasn’t leading to wins. With the Pistons struggling, coach Stan Van Gundy needed to do something, so Harris was moved to the bench before last week’s game with the Golden State Warriors, making way for Jon Leuer to join the starting lineup.

So far the change has been a positive for the Pistons and for Harris, as the young forward has shined over the last two games and the team has held its own with the Warriors and defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Harris has poured in 26 and 21 points while averaging 30 minutes over the last two games. He’s put up 14 shots in each of the last two games, one more shot per game than he was averaging with more minutes over the season’s first 31 contests.

“It’s just two games,” Van Gundy said Tuesday. “I’m sure he doesn’t like it, but in terms of minutes and shots, his role really hasn’t changed. If anything, it’s elevated.”

Most importantly, the Pistons have gotten off to hot starts and are able to bring a legitimate scorer off the bench to add some punch when the starters come off the floor.

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For a team that’s griped about touches this season, the move makes sense on many levels. Leuer is not the kind of player who demands the ball, meaning Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have a better chance to get into the flow of the game with one less natural scorer on the floor.

“It does help early in the game that I’ve got one less guy that I’ve got to get involved,” Van Gundy said. “(Drummond) gets himself involved, so I don’t need to call a ton for him. I can come into games and it’s (Jackson), (Morris) and (Caldwell-Pope) to start. That fourth guy really makes it tough, so I do think it’s easier in terms of distributing play calls.”

For his part, Leuer has continued his role as a steady contributor who shoots a high percentage while also adding a much-needed second presence on the glass next to Drummond.

The Pistons still have plenty to work on if they’re to get back on the right track and save their season, but the switch appears to be a move in the right direction.

Pistons vs. Bucks

Tipoff: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., The Palace of Auburn Hills

TV/radio: FSD/WMGC

Notes: The Pistons played an inspired brand of basketball against the Warriors and Cavaliers in their last two games. Now, Stan Van Gundy’s crew will have to play with a sense of urgency when the lights aren’t so bright against the Bucks. In their one meeting with Milwaukee in late October, the Pistons won, 98-93. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the way with 21 points, while Andre Drummond pulled in a season-high 23 rebounds. The Bucks come in after having lost three of their last four games.