Auburn Hills — Reggie Bullock waiting in the left corner as the play began. With Atlanta Hawks wing Kent Bazemore overplaying the passing lane Bullock cut behind Bazemore, to an open spot in the floor.
Andre Drummond had the ball at the top of the key, throwing a perfect bounce pass to Bullock, who dropped it in the basket for an easy two points. It’s not that often that the Pistons offense can get simple plays to work, but with Bullock starting his second straight game, they’re becoming a little more plentiful.
It’s a simple cut play, taught in middle schools and high schools all over the country, but something that gets lost in the one-on-one play in college and the NBA.
“If you watch our league, it’s really hard to find a lot of guys who are great cutters. If you look at a lot of great players in the league, they’ve all learned to do that, because defenses are going to load up on them,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “The best players in this league, in spite of what they can do with the ball, they also do a great job of moving without the ball.”
It sounds simple, but it’s something that gets lost in more complex offenses, 3-point shooting and the evolving one-on-one nature of the NBA. Bullock had 15 points in Wednesday night’s win over the Hawks, including a couple of back-cut plays, as he started his second straight game for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is recovering from a shoulder injury.
They’re big shoes to fill, but Bullock is just relying on fundamentals as he gets his stamina back, after sitting out six weeks as he rehabbed from a knee injury himself. It’s just a simple strategy he learned in college at North Carolina, where there’s a focus on fundamentals.
“He’s a great cutter and shooter and moves the ball really well,” forward Marcus Morris said. “He just knows how to play the game. He went to North Carolina and he knows how to play basketball and what coach wants.”
Bullock used the strategy plenty in college, but he honed it and added it to his repertoire after watching one of the veterans when he was a rookie three years ago.
“I picked it up from Matt Barnes. He was one of my vets when I was on the Clippers and I saw how he moved on cuts and I said that’s something I can add to my game,” Bullock said Wednesday night. “I did it in college a little but once I got drafted to the Clippers, I was just a spot-up shooter. I saw him doing it (because) he played in front of me.
“I saw him move without the ball. He played for (Van Gundy) and just making those cuts and getting points.”
For a team that’s had its share of offensive woes this season, having a spurt of energy and a couple of easy baskets off cuts is a welcome sight. But if it can infuse some variety and help others find a niche, it works for Van Gundy.
“We’ve been talking about it and it’s starting to get contagious — we had a couple other cuts and things,” Van Gundy said Wednesday. “I said tonight after the game he’s only played seven games this year and he’s probably had more cutting baskets than the rest of our team combined.”
It’s a lesson that Van Gundy plans to build off of, as he’s seeing the success it’s building. But the key is reading the defense and finding the best times to cut, so as not to clutter the offense with extra defenders in the lane.
That’s where Bullock is excelling.
“You can’t just cut — then everybody’s running into each other,” Van Gundy said. “There’s no timing and the ball doesn’t see you. You have to read the defense. There’s times where there’s defense between you and the basket and there’s not a cut and you’d be better off going off the screen.”
With Bullock and Stanley Johnson elevating their play over the last few games, Van Gundy said he’ll stick with them while Caldwell-Pope and Jon Leuer (knee) are out, but it could mean an expanded 10-man rotation when they’re all healthy.
“It’s a very good problem to have. I don’t think either one will just sit. They’ll both play but they’re clearly not going get 30 minutes each,” Van Gundy said. “They’ll both play and one of them will probably play a lot and the other one will maybe get more spot minutes and it’ll change night to night based on what we need. They’re both playing well.”