Detroit — At first blush, there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy’s rotation. It seems at first to be a meritocracy, then it goes to the left.
After a good opening game, Henry Ellenson didn’t play last Friday against the Wizards. After sitting in the first game, Luke Kennard has played in the last two. Langston Galloway played well in the first two contests, but didn’t play at all against the Knicks.
The hero in Saturday night’s win in New York, Anthony Tolliver, hadn’t played in the first two games.
No rhyme, no reason — that is, unless the matchups are considered. Then, the depth becomes something of a strength.
“It’s definitely fluid. I know Ish (Smith) is going to play and Jon (Leuer) is going to play off the bench, along with the starters,” Van Gundy said Monday. “Those seven, I know.”
After that, it’s a toss-up.
It’s an odd situation and although Van Gundy typically rolls with a rotation of nine or 10 players, the depth of the roster makes it harder to commit to a certain number and cut it there. The decision has become mostly matchup-based, as in the Knicks game, when Van Gundy was looking for someone — anyone — who could guard 7-foot-3 star Kristaps Porzingis.
When he tried Tolliver, he found his answer, which helped turn the game around. On a night-to-night basis, Van Gundy will rely on all of his reserves to try to find the right pieces to fit together for a particular game and opposing players.
“It’s going to (depend on) game situations. It’s not as easy. In the past, it’s been pretty easy for me,” Van Gundy said. “Hopefully, I can get that worked out at some point. Right now, it’s not. Those conversations, in a lot of cases, are not going to be very valuable because I can’t tell Boban (Marjanovic) or Eric Moreland who’s going to be the first center in.”
Marjanovic has been inactive for the two of the past three games, but the situation will fluctuate depending on whether there are other opportunities. Van Gundy will have another snag this week, when Reggie Bullock returns from his five-game NBA suspension and he’s likely to move up the ladder in the rotation as well.
“That’ll help us. Reggie played really well in the preseason and he has a little more size than our other wings,” Van Gundy said. “It makes decisions a little tougher, but getting him back will help us. I would like to be a little more settled on our rotation as time goes on — hopefully when we get back from California — we’ll be eight games into the year and I can have some things more settled in my mind.
“It still doesn’t mean I won’t use some of those other guys at times, but we’ll settle into roles, which does make it easier for guys.”
While Van Gundy doesn’t have specific conversations with players about their expected roles, he does rely on them to be professionals and to be ready whenever their number is called — just as Tolliver did with his defense on Porzingis while adding nine points off the bench.
That’s a lesson for some of the younger players to pick up on, how Tolliver handled the situation, without griping.
“It’s about being a professional,” Tolliver said. “If you’re in this league and you’re on the bench and not playing and don’t work, you’re going to get an opportunity and the opportunity is not going to work out for you.”
The Pistons got their first look at Sixers center Joel Embiid, who has been injured for most of the past three seasons and hasn’t had a chance to play in any of the teams' previous matchups.
Add Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz and the Sixers have a different roster than what the Pistons are accustomed to seeing, which makes matching up a bit more difficult.
“Embiid is a really unique guy because he’s a big, strong guy who can score around the basket,” Van Gundy said. “He’s also got exceptional quickness for a big and can shoot the ball out to 3-point range. He’s really a tough matchup for centers.”
The same can be said for Simmons, who is 6-foot-10 and has had an impressive start for the Sixers.
“A bunch of different guys will guard him, too,” Van Gundy said. “He’s really impressive at his size with his ability to handle the ball and make plays, push the ball on the break and play in PNRs (pick-and-rolls). He’s pretty good.”