NBA

NBA PM: Stan Van Gundy Settling In

It’s early, but Stan Van Gundy is making things work with Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

Yannis Koutroupis profile picture
Updated 12 months ago on
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Stan Van Gundy Settling In

Despite being given complete control of the Detroit Pistons this offseason, there wasn’t a reasonable method for Stan Van Gundy to make significant changes. There were plenty of opportunities, like trading Josh Smith to the Sacramento Kings or letting Greg Monroe leave via restricted free agency (where there was reportedly two teams willing to give him a max offer but didn’t due to a belief that the Pistons would match). However, none of those made enough sense for Van Gundy to pull the trigger, so instead he’s taking an approach similar to what Masai Ujiri did when he took over the Toronto Raptors last year.

Ujiri was expected to come in and clean house when he got the job in the summer of 2013, but wanted to see what they were capable of from an inside vantage point before making any roster-altering decisions. Early in the regular season, it was clear that Rudy Gay just didn’t fit with the personnel around him, and that is when Ujiri decided to act. He traded him to the Kings, which many viewed as the start of a massive rebuilding project, which typically occurs when a struggling team undergoes a change in management. Ujiri had an offer from the New York Knicks for starting point guard Kyle Lowry that he strongly considered, but during that process the team started to excel. Now, without any major moves outside of the Gay trade, the Raptors are viewed as one of the premier teams in the East, and Ujiri’s patience and faith is a major reason why.

Van Gundy has demonstrated similar patience and faith up to this point. He settled for signing Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin this summer as his only major moves. And, while three preseason games is hardly anything to read into too much, it’s hard not be intrigued by largely the same group people thought he was going to have to break up in order to have any kind of marked success with.

The Pistons are 2-1 this preseason, but that’s not the statistic to pay attention to. What is worth noting is how effective the trio of Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond have been. Drummond looks every bit like a future All-Star as he’s being utilized very similar to how Van Gundy used Dwight Howard during their time together with the Orlando Magic. Monroe is getting a lot of easy looks as well and would be on a streak of three straight double-doubles if he was able to grab one more rebound against the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks. Smith is doing a lot more creating and playing toward his strengths.

Most importantly, Van Gundy isn’t forcing them to work together. He’s finding ways for them to be effective otherwise.

“It wasn’t a great lineup for them last year,” Van Gundy said in a Q&A with NBA.com’s David Aldridge. “I don’t see it as a primary lineup. But when we’re going against Carmelo Anthony at three, LeBron James at three, he could very well be our best choice to match up. And so what we haven’t done is worked on what we want to do offensively with that lineup. I think if you’re going to play that lineup, having Josh sort of around the three-point line as a traditional perimeter guy is not playing to his strengths. I think we’ve got to utilize him in those situations to get him down in the post, keep him in pick-and-rolls and things like that, and we haven’t worked on that package of stuff at all.”

The utilization of Smith’s versatility, rather than trying to pigeonhole him into a position that he doesn’t excel at full-time, could eventually dispel the notion that the Pistons have to let go of either him or Monroe eventually in order to become a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference again.

“He’s a real tough postup matchup for the threes,” Van Gundy said. “The other guys are too big for threes to cover. He’s going to get three men. And so we would use him down in the post, still put him in pick-and-rolls, still use him as a facilitator. One of the things that sets him apart from most forwards in this league is his ability not only to make passes, but to make them off of the dribble. He and I had a long, not long — probably by his standards long, not mine — talk yesterday to look at film, understand from both sides. He was talking and really being on the same page in terms of where his greatness is, and where he needs to be, and how he needs to play. The first thing he said, when I asked him, ‘Where’s your greatness?,’ he talked about his passing. The point was, he needs to be more efficient with it, not give away those one or two careless plays a game. Because he really does have a great ability. We’ve been utilizing it a great deal already, and we want to utilize it more.”

Smith’s improved passing has been somewhat contagious. As a whole, the Pistons’ ball movement and willingness to make the extra pass, which they struggled with at times last year as evidenced by their bottom third assisted field goal percentage of .482, 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio and 20.9 assists per game, has been much better. They had 28 assists against the Bulls, 25 against the Wizards and 20 against the Bucks in a blowout victory.

There’s still a long way to go and Van Gundy is just scratching the surface of the system he eventually wants completely implemented, but this much is clear so far: The Pistons are not so poorly put together that they need to make a bad deal just for the sake of some mismatched parts. They have potential as constructed, with Van Gundy’s tinkering, to be a pretty good basketball team. Eventually, Van Gundy may have to shake things up in order for them to take it to the next level, but it will be because it clearly makes his team better, not because he’s backed into a corner and has to in order for his team to have a chance at competing.

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Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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