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Pistons Get Nice Performances From Key Bench Players

Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest questions facing Stan Van Gundy during training camp and the preseason was trying to find one more wing.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson and Jodie Meeks were locks, but Van Gundy needed one more player, especially since Morris has the capability to move to power forward if the Pistons go small.

The preseason isn’t over yet, but barring an injury, Reggie Bullock has won the job. Wednesday against Chicago, Bullock played in his third exhibition game and put up 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting in 24 minutes.

He’s now averaging 12.3 points, 2.7 assists and 2.3 rebounds in just over 20 minutes a game, and he’s done it with impressive efficiency. He’s shooting nearly 61 percent from the floor, including 8-of-16 on three-pointers.

“He was great defensively and he made shots,” Van Gundy told the team website. “You couldn’t have a much better preseason than what he’s had.”

Bullock was never expected to play a major role with the Pistons – he was just part of a Phoenix salary dump designed to clear cap space for a run at LaMarcus Aldridge. Van Gundy wanted Morris, but for a future second-round pick, he also got Bullock and the contract of Danny Granger, who isn’t expected to play this season because of his knees.

Bullock was supposed to be thrown into a battle with Adonis Thomas and Cartier Martin for the final perimeter spot, but they’ve both struggled with injuries while Bullock has shone. Even on Wednesday, he wasn’t supposed to play until Thomas aggravated a calf injury.

“I’ve just always got to be ready when coach gives me the call,” he said. “He knows what I’m capable of doing, shooting and defending. My teammates believe in me to shoot the ball, they believe in me to play defense. It’s all about me staying mentally and physically ready and going out and playing my game.”

Bullock has definitely opened eyes with the way he’s picked up Van Gundy’s system at both ends of the floor. He’s only committed one turnover in 62 minutes as opposed to eight assists, and he’s been strong on the defensive end.

“I’m starting to feel myself a little bit,” Bullock said. “Just being confident out there, my teammates finding me. We’re just trying to play together, trying not to force anything. I’ll take the shots if a player goes under (on screens). I take shots when I’m open. If somebody else is open, pass him the ball. I’ve always been that type of player. I’ve just got to keep it going.”

Being able to play without making many mistakes has impressed Van Gundy, especially while battling for a roster spot.

“He doesn’t turn the ball over, he makes shots and he defends,” he said. “That’ll take you a long way.”

Detroit’s bench got a second boost Wednesday when Aron Baynes made his preseason debut after dealing with some soreness in his ankle. Baynes was signed to a free-agent deal to back up Andre Drummond and got 13 minutes in against the Bulls. He wasn’t spectacular, finishing with five points and two rebounds, but the Pistons will need him to provide quality minutes during the grind of the regular season.

“Dust the cobwebs off, as it were,” he said. “It’s one of those things: The more you play, the more comfortable you get. The wind will come back, as well, so that will allow us to do even more than what you’re capable of right now.”

Van Gundy was perfectly happy just seeing his backup center running up and down the floor without any pain.

“I actually thought he was better than I thought he was going to be,” he said. “He hasn’t played in so long. I thought he looked fine. Better than I expected.”

The Pistons will only need 12-17 minutes from Baynes on most nights, and not even that much from Bullock in a lot of games, but Wednesday gave an indication that they might be able to get those minutes without a huge dropoff in play.

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