It was an important season for Reggie Bullock. Coming off a season where, for the first time in his career, he looked to have some stability with his team, Bullock was also bound to be a restricted free agent at the end of the year.
The Pistons and Bullock talked contract extensions over the summer, but Bullock’s came mostly behind the wake of his teammate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s more blockbuster salary numbers. The two sides weren’t able to come to terms and we never really got much of a sense as to the dollar amounts they discussed.
But Bullock did say, "We just didn't come up with anything. But seeing those numbers, I'm confident in myself as a basketball player. I'm confident in my skill set and what I bring to the game. It's just all about trying to find myself into the rotation and taking advantage of the opportunity."
So presumably the Pistons weren’t just offering a bargain deal. Over last offseason, one of the more notable and eyebrow-raising deals signed went to Allen Crabbe. The Brooklyn Nets signed him to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, and his Portland Trail Blazers matched. The 6’6 wing was coming off a season where he averaged 10 points and shot 39 percent from three. That earned him a four year, $75 million contract.
It’s not hard to see Bullock looking at that $75 million season and thinking “I could do that.”
And he could. Bullock’s 2015-16 season was as up-and-down as most of his career had been to that point. Well, with higher ups and lower downs. Bullock shot a whopping 5 percent from the field before the All Star break last season. Yes, 5 percent. But when Stanley Johnson went down with an injury, Bullock was a contributor to some of the best basketball the Pistons played all year. He averaged 6 points per game while shooting 49 percent from the field after the All Star break, resurrecting his status as an interesting prospect.
If things went right, he could be this year’s Crabbe. Things didn’t go right.
Injuries and a rotation crunch limited Bullock’s opportunities to make an impact. He opened the season unable to seriously challenge the incumbent sixth man Stanley Johnson for minutes thanks to back spasms. His recovery was well-timed though, because Johnson’s minutes looked vulnerable.
Four games into his opportunity in the rotation, he went down with a knee injury - and it looked serious. A torn meniscus offered a wide range of recovery time, from as little as two months to perhaps the entire season. It looked like an awful blow from a guy who could stand for a little luck.
Sources: Detroit's Reggie Bullock will undergo surgery and miss 2-to-4 months with left meniscus tear. He served as valued backup guard.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 30, 2016
Bullock actually beat the earliest part of the timetable, returning even less than two months later. And his return coincided with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missing time due to a shoulder injury, so he was immediately able to jump in with big minutes.
Though it took a little while for his three point shot to start falling, he still managed to be one of the Pistons’ few plus players in the second half with his energy and clever play. While so many of his teammates settled for midrange shots, Bullock cuts became a thing.
His shooting also eventually came around and he finished the season shooting 38 percent from three - the highest mark on the Pistons.
For a team whose offense revolved far too much around inefficient shot selection in post ups and midrange, Bullock was a breath of fresh air. 28 percent of his shots came at the rim and 57 percent of his shots came from three point range.
It leaves the Pistons in a tough situation as they watch Reggie Bullock’s contract expire. In many ways, he’s exactly the type of player that they need. But where does he fit in?
Assuming the Pistons retain Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the rotation seems pretty solidified with KCP and Marcus Morris as starters on the wing with Stanley Johnson continuing to develop with backup minutes. Bullock deserves a solid contract and a clear path to minutes next season.
Were it not for losing two months to his knee injury, Bullock might even emerged as a more cost-effective solution to the shooting guard situation next season. KCP had a great start to the season, but struggled mightily in the final few months on both ends of the court.
But as it’s played out, Bullock has logged less than 900 minutes for the Pistons over the past two seasons. It’d be mighty risky figuring on going into next season with so little experience for the starting shooting guard. Which makes KCP look nearly irreplaceable. But for the league’s third worst three point shooting team, isn’t their best three point shooter also irreplaceable?
Reggie Bullock is a great example of how damn frustrating of a season this was. He played well, but injuries kept him from really being able to showcase his skills at length. And at the end of the season, it leaves both his upcoming contract situation and the Pistons’ rotation on the wings up in the air.
If Bullock has played his last game for the Pistons, we certainly wish him better luck wherever he lands next. He joined the team as a toss-in on a salary dump and squeezed onto the roster as the 15th man. He’d be leaving it having proven he belongs in a NBA rotation.