Pistons coach talks about team ahead of Wednesday's first preseason game. Rod Beard
Auburn Hills — It’s not the highest on the list of priorities for the Pistons to improve this season, but it’s on the list.
Among the concerns about bouncing back from injuries for guards Reggie Jackson and Langston Galloway and questions who will take over the starting role at small forward and how Boban Marjanovic will look as backup center, the status at power forward hasn’t been a big to-do.
But it’s as important as any of the others.
Coach Stan Van Gundy says it’s been the deepest position so far in training camp, with Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer, Anthony Tolliver and Henry Ellenson combining to make an impression.
“As a group, they’ve been really good and played well. They’ve all shot the ball really well,” Van Gundy said. “They’ve also done a good job moving the ball and defensively in terms of communication.”
It was mostly the same cast of characters last season, with Harris at the forefront as the team’s leading scorer (16.1 points). Leuer had a good first half of the season, but his production dipped and Ellenson saw little playing time as Marcus Morris and Harris did most of the heavy lifting at the two forward spots.
Pistons small forward talks about the team's offense and adjusting to new surroundings at Little Caesars Arena. Rod Beard
With Tolliver’s return to the fold, the Pistons have another big man who can guard mobile forwards and add an athletic presence. While they’re lacking a bigger, stronger traditional post presence, they still have a variety of options that can be flexible in their individual skill sets.
“We have really good bigs. The (power forward) position is very deep, and we have guys who can do everything,” Tolliver said. “We each bring a different flavor to the table — that’s only going to bode well for our team.
“(In minutes) I might get the short end of the stick, (or Henry or Jon), as long as we’re winning — that’s what we care about.”
Ellenson struggled to find playing time last year as a rookie, but has come on in the offseason and will push for more minutes this season. Recognizing that variety, Van Gundy has said it’ll be a luxury to have so many options at the position.
Harris looks to be the starter, but there could plenty of mixing and matching among the power forwards, with the possibility of having more than one of them on the court, moonlighting at small forward, depending on the matchup.
“With (Tolliver), we know he’s a 3-point shooter and opens the defense. Henry also is another 3-point shooter and puts it on the floor well. He’s gotten stronger throughout the offseason and looks really sharp out there and is playing with confidence,” Harris said. “Both guys have a different dynamic but bring a different aspect to the game.”
For Tolliver, who played last season with the Sacramento Kings and re-signed as a free agent this summer, there’s some background in playing either forward spot, as he did early in his career, when he moved from power forward to small forward and another three-year period when he played more at small forward.
Either way, he’s ready to contribute, given the defender and what the offense calls for with his skill set. That could even extend to playing some as a stretch center, if the need arises — likely not often, as he’s 6-foot-8, 240 pounds.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to get on the court,” Tolliver said. “There are going to be certain matchups where it makes sense to put me at the (small forward) or (center). We could have different lineups where there are multiple (power forwards) on the court at the same time.”