For Reggie Bullock, his NBA season really began on Feb. 24 at The Palace. Yet it looked like an act of sheer desperation when dire circumstances forced Head Coach Stan Van Gundy to call on Bullock for his first shot at meaningful minutes since last November.
Two nights earlier, Detroit had downed Cleveland on the road, 96-88, ending a five-game losing streak. While Philadelphia was coming to town next, a sprained shoulder would rob the Pistons of rookie sixth man Stanley Johnson for the next seven games. It was exactly the wrong time to be a man down. At 28-29, the playoffs were starting to look like a long shot in the resurgent Eastern Conference.
Bullock came through in a big way versus the 76ers, scoring a season-high 16 points in 26 minutes, as the Motor City rolled to a 111-91 triumph. For the next two weeks he averaged nine points per game, connecting on 58 percent of his three-point shots, as the Pistons went 5-2 and jumped back into the postseason competition.
When Johnson returned to the lineup, Bullock’s playing time decreased dramatically from the 23.9 mpg he received in his absence. Yet he played a significant role once more in early April, helping fuel a come from behind 108-104 victory over Orlando with his 13 points and NBA career-high six assists. And his 15 points, eight boards and four dimes were also instrumental in Detroit getting its 44th win at Cleveland in the last game of the season.
For anyone who watched Bullock’s preseason performance, none of this should have been a surprise. In six contests way back in October he averaged 10.7 ppg in 19.2 mpg, shooting 63 percent from the floor and 52 percent from beyond the arc.
But once the real games began, the former Tar Heel saw a reduced role, even though a fractured foot soon forced Jodie Meeks to the sideline for the second season in a row. In the sparse playing time he did see, Bullock’s shot was mostly off. In fact, he shot only FIVE PERCENT (10 percent from three) in 18 appearances prior to the All-Star Break.
Through all those nights of being glued to the bench, Bullock nevertheless maintained an "upbeat demeanor" that endeared him to his teammates and his coaches. And he stayed prepared in case an opportunity to play came.
"He works hard when nobody’s watching," said Andre Drummond. "He does all the things he’s supposed to do when he’s in the gym. And when he gets on the floor, he produces."
Bullock averaged six points in 11 minutes in the first two playoff matches versus the Cavaliers. Unfortunately, a leg injury kept him out of the two final games.
Bullock has established himself in Detroit as a player who knows his role and sticks to it. What remains to be seen is whether he can become a consistent contributor next season. At 6-foot-7, 205, his surest path to playing time will be as the primary backup to starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. For that to happen, however, Van Gundy probably needs to expand his playing rotation beyond last year’s nine players. If Johnson again receives most of the reserve minutes at both small forward and shooting guard, that leaves little room for Bullock.
Even if Van Gundy does expand his rotation, Bullock will face challenges from both Jodie Meeks and second-year pro Darrun Hilliard. While they each offer different strengths, Bullock is probably the superior defender and three-point shooter. He has also shown himself to be very capable of running the floor on the fastbreak and moving without the ball to get open. He is not a skillful ball handler, however, and that is an area of concern in certain lineups.
Given that Caldwell-Pope averaged a team-high 36.7 mpg in 2015-16, and small forward Marcus Morris was second with 35.7 mpg, it might behoove Van Gundy to lessen the burden on both of those players next year. With Bullock, Hilliard and Meeks each showing the ability to be among the team’s best three-point shooters, it seems a waste to let all of them languish on the bench.
The Pistons picked up Bullock's 2016-17 option last fall, so barring a trade Bullock will remain on the roster at least another year. With a salary of about $2.3 million, his contract will not be a burden. If he can carve out a larger role, Detroit may benefit greatly from the 42 percent three-point accuracy he displayed in his 37 games.