Pistons’ backup centers give different looks

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Eric Moreland read the play coming and did everything right.

Celtics guard Kyrie Irving was looking to drive to the paint and Moreland stepped over and helped, then got back to his man after Irving passed. When the ball drive came from the other side of the court, Moreland moved over again and altered a shot, grabbing the rebound.

It was about as solid a defensive possession as one could expect from Moreland, a Pistons’ reserve center.

On the next Celtics possession, Moreland rotated over late and couldn’t defend Marcus Smart getting to the rim and dunking easily.

It’s the state of the position at backup center now, as Moreland and Boban Marjanovic platoon as the backup to Andre Drummond.

Moreland gets the lion’s share, playing in 22 of the Pistons’ 26 games this season. He’s finding ways to contribute — with four rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks on Sunday — but he’s hasn’t made a huge impact on the offensive end, going just 11-of-22 on field goals this season.

“Eric played well,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “The decision to play with Boban was (because we struggled offensively).”

It’s rare to have both Moreland and Marjanovic playing in the same game, but what Moreland doesn’t give on the offensive end, Marjanovic provides a formidable force with his 7-foot-4 frame.

In just five minutes Sunday, Marjanovic had just two points on one missed shot attempt, but hit a pair of free throws.

Van Gundy looked to Marjanovic for an offensive spark when nothing else seemed to work, but that also requires cooperation from the rest of the offense.

“I’ve been disappointed with our guys because I don’t think we’re doing a good job when he comes in the game of shifting gears and looking for him,” Van Gundy said. “We played right around him three or four times in his stretch and we’re not looking for him.

“When he comes in the game, he’s got to get the ball.”

In 14 minutes against the Warriors, he managed 10 points, on 5-of-8 shooting, and added four rebounds, forcing Golden State to match up with his size, to counter their fast-paced style.

It’s a far cry from Aron Baynes — who signed with the Celtics in the offseason — and was a reliable backup for two seasons, with 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds. It’s turned into a shared role for both Moreland and Marjanovic — and it’s still a work in progress.

With Jon Leuer out because of an ankle injury, those are the only options, with Marjanovic getting a longer look in the last two games.

“We’re not down on Eric by any means; he’s done well and when we get Jon back, that could affect things too,” Van Gundy said.

“We’ll look for situations where we think it’s a good time for him. He played well (against the Warriors).”

Adjusting to Luke

As Luke Kennard gets more comfortable, he’s getting more serious playing time and is up to 6.2 points, with 39 percent on 3-pointers.

Some of it is a comfort level by playing more minutes; another piece is just getting used to the speed, size and pace of the NBA game.

“I thought early on, Luke was passing up a lot of shots. People are bigger and close harder,” Van Gundy said. “It took him a while to adjust to understanding when he had time to get the shot off and when he didn’t. Early in the year, he almost never thought he had time with big guys closing hard.”

Role reversal

Van Gundy decided to finish Sunday’s game with Ish Smith at point guard and Kennard at forward down the stretch, over Reggie Jackson and Stanley Johnson. It was mostly just a rough night for the regular starters, which Van Gundy recognized.

“Ish was giving us better energy and Reggie was playing hard and getting good shots,” he said. “When I go back and look at his nine shots, I’ll probably like all of them.

“Stanley actually played well; it’s just the way (the Celtics) played, staying in the lane.”

Nuggets at Pistons

Tipoff: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/WXYT

Notable: The Nuggets (14-12) have lost three of their last four and will be without Nikola Jokic (ankle), in addition to Paul Millsap (wrist).


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard