Pistons’ ‘spotty’ effort on defense rankles Van Gundy

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — At this point of the season, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy almost expects poor defense, so there’s no need in getting into a huff about it.

That doesn’t mean that it’s not frustrating, though.

Following a scrimmage in Thursday’s only practice, Van Gundy lamented the defensive effort his team displayed in its three quarters of 5-on-5 workouts, keeping in mind it’s still the first week of training camp.

“Our defensive intensity is spotty at best; at times we turn up and it looks good, but we’re still in the summertime pick-up mode on defense and we’re turning the ball over a lot,” Van Gundy said. “Those are two things that have to get better.”

It’s a familiar refrain early in training camp, with players taking a little longer to lock in to their defensive stances and spend the extra effort to try to stop the ball from getting to the basket. That lack of movement and poor communication have been the biggest issues over the past couple of years, but Van Gundy doesn’t want to start the season with those same bad habits.

Aside from the defensive issues, Van Gundy did like the passing and togetherness. That’s a turnaround from last season, when the ball seemed to get stuck more frequently and not make it from one side of the court to the other easily.

“I wasn’t happy today with our disposition on defense, but I really do like the way the ball is moving and the way guys are playing together,” he said. “The turnover thing you sort of expect. Early in camp, it’s usually a little sloppy. Some of our veteran guys who have played a lot and are turning it over, so that’s not good. My bigger concern is our defensive disposition on an every-possession basis.

“It’s just been up and down. When we drill, the intensity is there; when we play, they’re in pick-up game mode. You’ll get on them and you get five or six minutes of defensive intensity and then it drops again. It’s just a mindset. We have to get out and defend.”

Jackson pain-free

The Pistons will resume twice-daily practices Friday, when guards Reggie Jackson (knee tendinitis) and Langston Galloway (right knee bruise) are expected to participate in their first 5-on-5 scrimmages. Getting in full-contact game mode is the next hurdle for Jackson, who is emerging from a 16-week protocol that kept him away from basketball activities throughout the summer.

Van Gundy said Jackson hasn’t complained of any pain so far in training camp, which is the best sign yet. If Jackson can continue to be pain-free through scrimmages and more vigorous practice, he could be ready for a heavier workload when the preseason begins Wednesday and the regular season starts Oct. 18.

“He looks like he’s moving well,” Van Gundy said. “It’s going to be a matter of getting his legs ready. It’ll be good to get him back out there playing.”

In practices, Jackson has been moving well, including driving and dunking off two feet. He’s said he has the explosive first step and some of the quickness that he lost last season.

Kennard, Johnson stand out

In Thursday’s scrimmage, Van Gundy said two of the standouts were rookie Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson, who is in line to be the starter at small forward.

Van Gundy noted this week that Johnson has made strides in his maturity and looks ready to take on a bigger load with starters’ minutes and an expanded role on the court. He noted Johnson worked with him on watching film, and he figured out the changes he needed to make and showed he could do it almost immediately.

“The really encouraging thing with Stanley is not just that he played well, but that he and I watched some film on specific things and he really went out and tried to do that stuff — and did it very well today,” Van Gundy said. “He’s been a little stubborn in the past, and today it was right on.”