Van Gundy: Pistons must keep it just about winning
Auburn Hills — Best start since 2007-2008. Eight games over .500 for the first time since January 2009. Second-best record in the Eastern Conference. The offense, which scored a season-high 131 points against the Suns on Wednesday night, has reeled off 14 straight games with at least 20 assists, something that hasn’t been done around here since 2005-2006.
Life is good for the Pistons right now, as they embark on a tough, four-game road trip starting Friday in Washington. But coach Stan Van Gundy doesn’t have to be reminded of how fickle and fragile success can be in the NBA.
“Things can change very quickly in this league,” he said after the team watched film and did some weight-room work Thursday. “It can go from good to bad and it can go from bad to good. You just have to stay on top of it and be vigilant about the way you play and execute.
“It’s paying attention to detail and playing with great pace and energy — all those things we talk about and are doing a good job of. But it has to be our focus every day. You show up and think it’s just going to happen and then you are going to be in trouble.”
The Pistons’ success to this point has been a selfless, group effort. A hard-nosed and active defense is the bedrock; the offense was more of an X-factor. So far, so good. They rank seventh in terms of offensive efficiency, despite no individual player in the top 10 in points, assists or player efficiency rating.
It’s a testament to the players buying in to the ball-sharing motion offense Van Gundy implemented in training camp.
“What’s happened is, we’ve had a couple of guys make sacrifices in some ways,” Van Gundy said. “Reggie (Jackson, point guard) is a perfect example. The number of pick-and-rolls we run is way down from when he first got here, and his number of shot attempts is the lowest it’s been since he’s been here.
“But his efficiency is way up. It’s the highest his efficiency has been.”
Jackson, who made his living off pick-and-plays over his career, is averaging almost a career-low 12 shots a game. Yet, his shooting percentages (.506 on two-point attempts and .390 on 3-pointers) are career-highs and his 20.1 efficiency rating is a career-best.
He’s not the only one who’s made sacrifices. Center Andre Drummond is averaging just over 10 shots per game, the lowest number of attempts since Van Gundy took over the team. But his efficiency rating is at a personal-high 22.6.
“Andre’s gone from a guy that averaged fewer than one assist per game to averaging 3.7 assists,” Van Gundy said. “His rebounds are up (league-high 15.2). We’re talking about guys playing to their strengths and he’s elevated all of that.”
The Pistons are third in the NBA in three-point shooting, led by Tobias Harris (career-best 46.7 percent) and Avery Bradley (career-best 44.1 percent).
“We’ve got some guys who have made sacrifices and we’ve got guys getting more of an opportunity,” Van Gundy said. “And at least so far, it’s just been about winning.”
There is it, the dreaded qualifier — “so far” it’s just been about winning.
“That’s always the challenge as you go on — will people keep it about winning or does it become about individual things,” Van Gundy said. “So far, our group has been very good about it being about winning. We will see how it goes as we move along.”
The Pistons have shown greater maturity this season — playing unselfishly, beating elite teams and not letting up against weaker teams, playing well on the road and in the second of back-to-back games.
But, this team has yet to deal with sustained success and the brighter spotlight that comes with it.
“Guys want to win in this league and when it comes, sometimes you start to take it for granted,” Van Gundy said. “Like, ‘We’re just going to win, so now I can get a couple more shots.’ Suddenly everybody wants a bigger piece of the pie. I’m not saying that will happen, because our guys have been good.
“But it can happen. Things can change very quickly and very significantly in this league — for better and for worse. And we have to stay on it.”
This upcoming four-game trip — to Washington, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Milwaukee — concludes what may be the Pistons’ toughest 13-game stretch of the season.
Nine of the games are on the road and all but one (the win over the Suns Wednesday) are against playoff contending teams. And the Pistons are currently 4-3 in the stretch. Pivotal, right?
Van Gundy isn’t biting on that premise.
“It’s like any four-game stretch,” he said. “That’s not the story anybody wants to hear, but you can take any four games during the year and none are more important than any other four-game stretch. Every game is one of 82.
“I know it’s not exciting, but I look at the standings every day and that’s the way it is. We beat Boston and it was a great win and they only gave us one for it. And they only gave us one for last night.”
… The Wizards are still without elite point guard John Wall, who remains out with a knee injury. In his absence, former third overall pick Otto Porter has picked up the scoring slack, shooting 47.5 percent beyond the three-point arc. “It’s not surprising,” Van Gundy said. “He’s a really talented guy. It just took him a year or so to adjust. But like a lot of guys, what really changed for him was his shooting. That opened everything else up.”
… Pistons center Jon Leuer, out with a left ankle injury, visited an orthopedic specialist in Indianapolis on Thursday. “He’s going for a second opinion,” Van Gundy said.