AUBURN HILLS — Marcus Morris and Andre Drummmond have played three regular-season games together, but so far, things are working about as well as Stan Van Gundy could’ve possibly hoped.
Friday, Morris had 26 points and Drummond had 20 points and 20 rebounds as the Detroit Pistons beat the Chicago Bulls 98-94 in overtime. Detroit is now 3-0 for the first time in seven years.
Morris, acquired from Phoenix in a salary-dump trade this summer, is averaging 19.3 points on a team that’s struggling to score. Detroit only had 83 points in regulation before getting hot at the start of overtime, and are unbeaten despite shooting under 40 percent for the season.
“We couldn’t find the bottom of the basket tonight, but Marcus got hot and saved us,” Reggie Jackson said on the FOX Sports Detroit postgame show.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said this is exactly what he had in mind when he got Morris from the Suns.
“We thought he was the type of guy that, if you got him into the right system, he could thrive,” he said. “It is only three games, but he’s thriving.”
While Morris has provided consistent scoring on a team that badly needs it, Drummond is still the anchor of the roster. Friday was his fifth career 20-20 game – a statistic that doesn’t sound that impressive until you remember that he only turned 22 in August.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, only three players since 1985 have had more 20-20s before their age-23 season: Dwight Howard, Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Love.
“Until I started playing on his team, I didn’t realize how good he is,” Morris said. “He’s amazing. He’s going to be an All-Star this season, and he’s going to be a great player in this league.”
Through three games, Drummond is averaging 18.7 points and 16.3 rebounds, including 6.7 offensive rebounds. It’s too early to take those numbers seriously, but Moses Malone is the only player to match those stats since the league started counting offensive rebounds in 1977.
He had nine of Detroit’s 20 offensive rebounds against Chicago – a stat that helped the Pistons put up 104 shots as opposed to just 84 for the Bulls. On the other end, his defense was a major part of the reason for his team’s 52-40 scoring advantage in the paint.
“We know that long two-pointers are the lowest-percentage shot in the game, so we do everything we can to run guys off the three-point line,” Jackson said. “The only reason that works is that we’ve got Andre protecting the rim. We know that he’s going to be there if we need him.”
That’s new for Drummond, who’s never been known for his defensive prowess. With Greg Monroe gone, though, he knows that he’s going to have to be able to step up and guard the rim when shots aren’t falling.
His ability to do that will be crucial to the Pistons, since Monroe’s replacement, Ersan Ilyasova isn’t exactly a defensive specialist. He allowed 26 points to Derrick Favors in Wednesday’s home win over Utah and Nikola Mirotic scored 22 on Friday.
The rest of the team, though, is following Drummond’s lead on defense.
“Our offense has to get better, because we can’t just keep riding Marcus,” Van Gundy said. “The reason we’re still winning games is because our guys are fighting every step of the way, and they are playing without fear. When you know you are getting stops, you don’t have to worry about making every shot at the other end.”
Van Gundy knows the Pistons can’t make the postseason shooting 38 percent, but he wasn’t taking the blame on Friday.
“I’m in charge of the defense,” he said with the grin of a man who is 3-0 after a 3-19 start a year ago. “I’ve given the offense to my assistants, so this is all their fault.”