Beard: Harris' offensive surge a boon for Pistons
Detroit — After Wednesday’s 122-101 blowout win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Pistons head out on a difficult stretch of games on the West Coast, looking to stay above .500 and gain some momentum ahead of a five-game home stand to start November.
They’ve alternated wins and losses in their 3-2 start and face the Clippers, Warriors and Lakers on their three-game trip.
It’s a tough trip, especially with the Warriors game on Sunday as a back-to-back. In recent years, the Pistons have had their problems getting a win in Los Angeles but they’re a better team than the Lakers. They’ll match up well with the Clippers, but if they can get two wins in the three games, consider that a huge success.
Ahead of the trip, here are some news and views on where the Pistons stand:
■ News: On Wednesday, Tobias Harris tied his career high with 34 points — his second 30-point game this season — and leads the team in scoring.
■ Views: This is one of the biggest surprises of the season. So much emphasis was put on Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond in the pick-and-roll, but Harris’ success is borne out of his increased willingness to shoot the ball. Coach Stan Van Gundy has been admonishing Harris to take his shots, especially from 3-point range, and Harris has responded, making six against Minnesota.
“He had one (he passed up) and coming out of a timeout, we said, ‘You have to shoot the ball.’” Van Gundy said. “He’s not going to go 6-for-9 every night. There’s going to be a lot of 2-for-9’s and 3-for-9’s in there, too.”
Harris is averaging 23.6 points and 5.4 rebounds in five games and has the highest scoring average of any Pistons players since Ben Gordon in 2010. He creates mismatches when he’s matched against a power forward and seems more natural when he’s playing at small forward.
■ News: Henry Ellenson had 14 points — one off his career high — on Wednesday.
■ Views: The second-year forward looks to be carving a niche for himself in the playing rotation. After a good preseason, Ellenson has struggled to get consistent minutes behind Anthony Tolliver, Jon Leuer and Harris, but that could be changing.
“One of the big reasons you have to find a way to play him as a young guy is we have a team that works hard and is a good practice team. We have a team that will focus in on improvement — but nobody more so than Henry,” Van Gundy said. “Whatever it is you’re working on, that guy is locked in and trying to get better. He’s going to keep getting better and better and we’re going to have put up with some growing pains and there may be some nights where the matchup just doesn’t work, but we’ve got to give him a chance here.
“He’s earned his chance; he’s earned it for four weeks. He’s been consistent every day in practice, he played well in the preseason and he’s earned his right to go out there and play.”
That sounds like Ellenson won’t be relegated to the fourth option among the power forwards — and rightly so. The big question is Ellenson’s defense, which is where Tolliver excels. Tolliver has his huge moments, such as the win over the Knicks, but Ellenson brings a lot of upside that has to be explored.
■ News: Stanley Johnson had his best game of the season, with 15 points and shot 6-for-12 from the field.
■ Views: It was about time for Johnson to break out of his slump. After going 0-for-13 from the field in the opener, Johnson finally got on track after the Pistons got in transition and he was able to play his best role, by filling the lanes and setting up his shots in the half court.
“We are better in transition. When we play with energy, we have nice, athletic people who can shoot the ball,” Johnson said. “I played my role; I got a quick, early steal and got two early lay-ups and ran the floor.”
Johnson is relied upon to be a defensive stalwart on the wing, along with Avery Bradley. If he’s able to get some consistency on a night-to-night basis, that’s likely the best fit for him to grow into a bigger role.