Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy talks about team's 109-87 preseason victory over Hawks on Friday at Little Caesars Arena. Rod Beard
Detroit — After the Pistons’ second preseason game at Little Caesars Arena, there’s still an adjustment period from the move from The Palace to the new digs downtown. While there are plenty of empty seats around the arena — with some fans still touring the concourses and partaking in the bars and restaurants — there still isn’t the fan energy, even for the preseason.
What the Pistons showed in Friday night’s 109-87 win over the Atlanta Hawks is that they’re making a quicker adjustment on the court. They turned a five-point halftime lead into a 21-point bulge heading into the fourth quarter and cruised to an easy win.
Here are five takeaways from their lopsided victory:
■ The new normal: It’s not the same tentative Stanley Johnson that struggled last year in his second season. Johnson is showing more confidence and poise and improved shot selection in what will be a critical third season. He finished with 10 points but more importantly, he’s blending with the starting unit, where he won’t necessarily have a big scoring role with the likes of Reggie Jackson, Avery Bradley and Andre Drummond.
“Stanley’s playing the way we want him to play. There’s a couple of minor things — he has to slow down with his footwork,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “What he’s bringing is the energy we want and he’s making plays for other people. I’ve been really happy; his approach in both games has been very good.”
■ Youth movement: Henry Ellenson continued his strong play with 16 points, playing extended minutes at power forward. Van Gundy said he’s been happy with Ellenson’s play in training camp and the first preseason game and Ellenson showed more confidence, with solid production, especially on the defensive end. With Drummond out and Jon Leuer playing center, Van Gundy got creative and used Leuer and Ellenson together, even having Ellenson guard the Hawks’ Mike Muscala and Ersan Ilyasova interchangeably.
“Henry’s just playing at a high level,” Van Gundy said. “That’s why it’s going to be tough with playing time: (Anthony) Tolliver, Henry, Jon and Tobias (Harris) all are playing at a high level right now.”
■ A little Moreland: With the center position thin because of Drummond’s absence, Eric Moreland (two points, 13 rebounds) showed he can play more than just a bit part when given some minutes. Moreland was active around the offensive glass and created several second chances with his energy around the basket.
“Jon and Eric both did a really good job — Jon on the defensive boards and Eric on both boards, particularly on the offensive,” Van Gundy said. “Eric can bring that to us, the rebounding and all that. He brings good energy; he’s tough as heck.”
■ Tolliver effect: Van Gundy commented this week that power forward was the deepest position on the team in camp, where that group played the best and most consistently as a whole. They showed it again Friday, with Tolliver as the surprise standout. In the first half, he had 11 points in 11 minutes, including a pair of three-point plays. While they figure out which lineups work best, Tolliver is a good option to play at power forward, or as the small forward with Harris or Leuer. The versatility at that position could be one of the biggest keys to their success this season.
■ The intangibles: Van Gundy wasn’t too excited about the uneven halves — good ball movement and defense in the first half that faded in the second half — they reduced the turnovers from 19 on Wednesday to 12 on Friday night. Ish Smith had eight assists and one turnover and Langston Galloway six assists and no turnovers, which Van Gundy highlighted as a big improvement over the first game.