Beno Udrih has been the key to the Pistons’ bench

The backup point guard position was once a desolate spot for the Detroit Pistons. Thanks to Beno Udrih, that position is now a place of strength.

The Detroit Pistons suffered to the end at backup point guard a season ago. Behind Reggie Jackson was the duo of Steve Blake and Spencer Dinwiddie. Blake was too old and washed up years ago, and Dinwiddie was too young and inexperienced, lacking of NBA game experience.

Dinwiddie got a shot early in the season to take the reins of the backup spot, but he was too raw and not ready. Thanks to his veteran experience, Blake took over the position for the bulk of the rest of the season, and things did not go well for the Pistons when he was on the floor.

Blake oversaw one of the worst and lowest-scoring bench units in the NBA last season. In the 986 minutes over 58 games when Blake was on the floor, the Pistons had a net rating of -3.7.

He averaged 4.4 points and 3.4 assists per game in 17 minutes per game and shot just 38.8 percent from the floor. The Pistons made the playoffs with a 44-38 record, but it was in spite of Blake and the bench.

The Detroit Pistons parted ways with Blake this past offseason, renouncing his rights in order to clear cap space to sign Boban Marjanovic away from the San Antonio Spurs along with Joel Anthony and Anthony Tolliver.

The Pistons were intent on replacing Blake with fresh blood, and they did so by signing Ish Smith to fill the backup spot, and they retained end-of-the-bench point guard Lorenzo Brown from last season’s squad to compete for the third point guard spot. They added Detroit native Ray McCallum later in the summer to provide competition for the final roster spot.

The first twist to this tale occurred right before the preseason began when Reggie Jackson went down with knee tendinitis which is expected to keep him out for the first 15-20 games of the season. This elevated Ish Smith to the starting spot, and it made the battle between Brown and McCallum much more important than a mere competition for bench-warming point guard.

Neither Brown or McCallum seperated themselves during the preseason, and head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy made a surprise last-second decision to waive McCallum (who had been announced the winner over Brown) and sign Beno Udrih who had just gotten waived by the Miami Heat.

There were concerns that Udrih would be nothing but a redux of the Steve Blake experience. They had similar stats last season as Udrih scored 4.7 points per game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Heat, adding 2.6 assists and 1.6 rebounds per game.

It appears after three games, however, that those fears were unfounded.

Udrih has been a revelation for the Pistons so far. He’s averaging 8 points and 4.3 assists per game in 17 minutes per game, and he’s shooting 50 percent from the floor and 50 percent from the three-point line as well.

Perhaps even more impressive than his own offensive performance is the way he’s led the bench.

On a game-by-game basis last season, the Pistons starters would hand Blake and the bench leads last season, only to have the poor offense and unathletic defense cough up those leads and force the starters to begin again from scratch. So far this season, the bench has opened leads for the starters to play with in two of their three games.

With Udrih on the floor, the Pistons have a net rating of +13.9 points per 100 possessions. Only Stanley Johnson‘s +15 net rating is better than Udrih’s so far this season.

The Pistons have a 51.7 percent true shooting percentage when Udrih leads the bench unit, which is a touch above their overall TS percentage of 51.5, and the defense is surrendering a stellar 87.5 points per 100 possessions.

While this is certainly a case of small sample size theatre, there was no three-game stretch last season where the bench did anything like what this bench has produced for the Pistons, and Udrih is the key cog to this new and improved unit.

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