Van Gundy has full, healthy roster to face Kings
Auburn Hills — Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy was a little incredulous when he thought about it. Now, he has some decisions to make.
For the first time this season, Van Gundy has a full, healthy roster, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope returning from his shoulder injury for Monday’s game against the Sacramento Kings and Jon Leuer playing in Saturday’s win over the Washington Wizards.
Reggie Jackson missed the first 21 games and over the past 24, the Pistons have been without Reggie Bullock, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes and others for at least one game.
So in Monday’s practice, having a full complement of players was an oddity for Van Gundy.
“We had 15 guys out there, so I didn’t really know what to do,” Van Gundy joked.
The latest quandary is who will be in the starting lineup. Van Gundy said he’d definitely put Caldwell-Pope back in the first five, but was unsure about Leuer, who was a reserve for his first game back, contributing 10 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes against the Wizards. He had moved into the starting role ahead of Tobias Harris, but with Harris and Marcus Morris starting the previous five games in the forward spots, Van Gundy might be leaning toward staying with that lineup.
Beyond that, with everyone available, Van Gundy will have to figure out how to handle the playing rotation. He generally likes to use a nine-man group, but with Bullock playing so well since his return, he’s made the case to be in a 10-man rotation.
“It’s been really good,” he said. “We’ll have to figure out the rotation with 10 guys we like the way they’re playing. That’s a good problem to have.”
The timing is good as well. The Pistons entered with a three-game winning streak and crept within a game of the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ll have four days off before their next game, at Miami on Saturday.
Caldwell-Pope injured his left shoulder going through a screen on Jan. 12 at Golden State, just four minutes into the game. He missed the next four games, leaving the Pistons without their best perimeter defender.
Some similar shoulder injuries take up to 4-6 weeks to heal, but Caldwell-Pope responded well to treatment, and when he tested the shoulder in shooting drills found that the injury wasn’t as severe as first thought.
Van Gundy said Caldwell-Pope did some 4-on-4 work on Sunday but in Monday’s shootaround looked ready to return to the lineup.
“I was a little surprised by that myself,” Van Gundy said.
Morris had one of his best games of the season against the Wizards Saturday, with 25 points including the tip-in winner. It was his third game in the last five with at least 20 points — and he’s averaged 10 rebounds over the last three games.
That’s in stark contrast to a month-long stretch from mid-December to mid-January when he was in a self-proclaimed slump, shooting just 37 percent from the field and averaging 11.5 points.
“Everybody is going through it. We need everybody playing well, but he’s certainly has played much better — and that’s been a big difference for us,” Van Gundy said. “His toughness and things are really big for us.
“We need his toughness and that presence physically more than we need anything out of him.”
He’s worked his way out of it in the last five games, boosting those numbers to 18.8 points and 41 percent on field goals, with 33 percent on 3-pointers. More than the stats, though, he’s provided some grit and leadership on the court, including being in the right place at the right time for the putback.
Former Piston Joel Anthony signed a 10-day contract with the San Antonio Spurs and welcomed a new daughter, Jade Olivia.
Van Gundy reached out to Anthony, who immediately texted back a picture of the new arrival.
“You’re always happy for a guy like that,” Van Gundy said. “He’s one of the truly best professionals you’ll run into in this league and any time something good happens to him, we’re happy.”