Detroit — Through the first 10 games of the season, the Pistons have had one of the best reserve units in the league. They’ve utilized the versatility of big men Anthony Tolliver and Eric Moreland and added scoring from Langston Galloway and Henry Ellenson.
Their depth will be tested over the next few days, as they’re without two of their main rotation players, with starting small forward Stanley Johnson (hip flexor) and reserve forward Jon Leuer (sprained left ankle) recovering from injuries.
Both will miss Wednesday’s matchup against the Indiana Pacers at Little Caesars Arena and could miss additional time if their conditions don’t improve.
“I don’t think either one is definitely out on Friday (against the Atlanta Hawks) or Sunday (versus the Miami Heat),” coach Stan Van Gundy said Wednesday. “It’s truly a day-to-day thing, so we’ll just have to see.”
Van Gundy didn’t reveal how he planned to fill the spots following Wednesday morning’s shootaround but he could use Reggie Bullock or Tolliver in the starting lineup for Johnson and Moreland or Boban Marjanovic as the backup center, where Leuer got some of his playing time.
More most teams, losing two rotation players would be a bigger issue, but for the Pistons, it’s a next-man-up mentality, with 14 players seeing playing time in the first part of the season. In that way, it’s a plug-and-play situation for Van Gundy.
“For our team, which is built on depth, everybody’s important to us so everybody being out hurts us,” Van Gundy said Tuesday, “but we have people who can fill in, so I see it both ways.”
Johnson had begun to establish good defensive chemistry with Avery Bradley on the wings, so finding another option there will be the hardest part of filling the gaps. Another option could be rookie Luke Kennard, who has seen limited action, but started in a similar situation in the preseason.
While many of the positions are interchangeable, Johnson, at 6-foot-7, offers something the other options don’t.
“Stanley is probably the only true (small forward) on our roster. Our other guys are (shooting guards) playing (small forward) or (power forwards) playing (small forward),” Van Gundy said. “That’s probably the biggest thing. With him and Avery our disposition has been really good. It’s not ideal, but it’s never ideal when anybody is out.”
Jackson finding his touch
Reggie Jackson isn’t off to a great statistical start, but he’s making a difference on the offensive end in the first 10 games. He’s shooting 43 percent from the field and hitting 33 percent on 3-pointers — compared to 42 percent on field goals and 36 percent beyond the arc last season — but after taking most of the summer off, he’s likely going to see some improvement.
Jackson had a summer of non-basketball activity and only started to ramp up in the days before training camp in October. With his conditioning improving in the first month of the season, he’s looking to break through the initial wall and get back to where he was two seasons ago, before the tendinitis issues made him miss the first 21 games last year.
“I don’t think it’s rust but he hasn’t had his normal summer of doing things. What you’re really going to see at some point here is his shooting is going to skyrocket — especially his 3-point shooting,” Van Gundy said. “We see it in practice and when he’s doing shooting drills. We just haven’t seen his get any consistency in the games.
“Part of that is still just being slightly away from his optimal conditioning. Part of it is he didn’t have all those shots in the summer.”
Van Gundy isn’t resting on the laurels of the hot start in the first 10 games. Even with their seven wins, he’s leery that things can turn bad within a few games and that his players need to have an intense focus to continue what they’ve started.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable if we were 80 games in. It’s important for all our players,” Van Gundy said. “You absolutely want to resist feeling comfortable and just try to focus on getting better every day and doing the things we need to do every night to win: playing extremely hard defensively and playing with great energy and movement offensively.
“Continue to get better at those things and never get comfortable or think you’ve turned the corner or found the answer. The questions always change. You have to stay vigilant on your approach.”