Auburn Hills — The Pistons are at the end of a tough stretch of games against some versatile opponents. Although the Knicks, 76ers and Timberwolves aren’t among the elite teams in the league, they have some elite talent in their big men: Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns.
That’s quite a trifecta for Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy to figure out a way to defend — and it showed in the stat lines, with 33 points for Porzingis on Saturday and 30 points for Embiid on Monday. Van Gundy pointed out their similarities, plus the difficulty in trying to find an answer for their ranging skill sets.
“Both (Towns) and Embiid are more low-post than Porzingis is,” Van Gundy said before Wednesday night’s matchup with the Timberwolves. “Porzingis is taller and better shot-blocker. They can all step out and shoot the 3.
“Towns is a tremendous talent because he can put the ball on the floor, he can post, he can shoot the 3 and they can run him off screens to the shoot the ball.”
There’s not much use in comparing them — they each are capable of a big game on any given night. But if there has to be one that Van Gundy favors, it’s Towns, because of his mix of being able to create his own shot and to work inside the paint. That generally makes for a tough night for the Pistons’ defense.
“(Towns) may even be the most versatile of the three offensively, but you’re splitting hairs with those three guys,” Van Gundy relented. “You’ve got three of the most unique guys in the league and we’ve had them bang, bang, bang.
“If I were a fan, I would call that really interesting and fun to watch; as a coach, I don’t really see it that way.”
Van Gundy admitted the next few days could spark some change among the lineup, as he looks to get to the eight-game mark and try to make some definitive decisions about the starting group and the reserve rotations. It’s been slow going, with some of the reserves inexplicably having fluctuations in minutes. But Van Gundy has maintained that it’s been based more on matchups and situations than merit from game to game.
With the next three games against the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, he’ll hope to solidify which players — he’s said he’d like it to be nine or 10 — and move forward from there.
“With five games in and headed out west, we’ll take a look at some things (Thursday) and Friday and then decide where we want to go,” he said. “We have a couple days between games when we come back (next week).
“This has been a period for us of constant evaluation — not just in terms of personnel, but in terms of our offense and what we want to do and defensive schemes and things we need to work on.”
Wednesday matchup between the Pistons and Timberwolves also had a bit of serendipity, as it marked the two-year anniversary of the passing of former Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, who also coached the Pistons from 2005-08. Saunders died in 2015 of Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 60. In 17 NBA seasons, he accumulated a record of 654-594, including four trips to the conference finals (three with the Pistons).
“He was one of the truly enjoyable people in our business, a really good guy, a very good basketball coach, but a guy that I think was universally liked and respected throughout the league — and that’s not an easy thing in a really competitive business,” Van Gundy said. “You get into rivalries and things that you usually have some people who can’t stand you — at least a handful of them — but with Flip, I never heard a bad word from anybody about him.
“I can say it’s hard to do in this business. He was just a great, great person.”