UNC in the NBA: Reggie Bullock finds his niche in Detroit

DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 30: Reggie Bullock
DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 30: Reggie Bullock /

From nearly forgotten to everyday starter, Reggie Bullock has found his niche

Most people didn’t think that a trade sending Reggie Bullock from Phoenix to Detroit would amount to much. And they certainly didn’t think that it would give the Pistons a new starting shooting guard. The move didn’t figure to be one that would end up benefiting both Bullock and the Pistons, and breathing life into a career that many had already labeled a bust.

In fact, the Suns’ salary dump that sent multiple players packing was made in hopes that the team would acquire All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge or another big name player. Of course, the Suns never managed to acquire Aldridge and they’ve been Western Conference punching bags in the years since.

Detroit, on the other hand, appears to be headed in the opposite direction.

A mid-season trade for Blake Griffin and a talented young nucleus that includes just two players over the age of 29 has the Pistons playing decent ball this season. They’re certainly not where they want to be, though, especially for a team that began the season with a 14-6 record, including wins over Minnesota, Golden State, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City and Boston.

However, the future could be bright in Detroit with the edition of Griffin to big man Andre Drummond and veterans Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley and Reggie Jackson.

Maybe the most pleasant (and surprising) development in Detroit this season, though, is the emergence of Reggie Bullock. The fifth-year shooting guard out of North Carolina hasn’t just had his best professional season to date; he’s been nearly unrecognizable.

ATLANTA, GA – FEBRUARY 11: Reggie Bullock
ATLANTA, GA – FEBRUARY 11: Reggie Bullock /

Stan Van Gundy’s decision to insert Bullock into the Pistons’ starting lineup seemed desperate and gimmicky to some at the time. Now, it looks like a stroke of genius.

Although the Pistons have struggled this season, suffering a 3-11 record in the month of February and sitting squarely outside the playoff picture, Bullock’s play has been steady. And he looks like a player poised to continue his ascent next season.

He’s scored double-digit points in 20 consecutive games, and his points per game have increased each month since January. He’s averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, field goal percentage, three-point percentage and minutes played.

His 11.2 points per game this season are sixth best on the team. His 15.5 points per game in the month of March, however, sit behind only Griffin and Harris, who play five more minutes per game and attempt nearly twice as many shots on the season.

Bullock’s talent is undeniable, but his marked improvement may say more about the opportunity afforded to him this season than anything else.

Through his first four professional seasons, Bullock never played more than 15.1 minutes per game. He also attempted fewer shots per game (4.1) than buckets he is making this season (4.3). His near-50 percent conversion rate from the floor and 44.4 percent shooting from three-point range is evidence of a gifted shooter, not just a one-hit wonder.

The Pistons aren’t a playoff team yet, and they certainly aren’t a title contender. But they’re not far off. A successful draft night and a savvy move or two from the Pistons’ front office and Detroit could soon compete in the not-so-competitive Eastern Conference.

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Given Bullock’s level of play this season, it stands to reason that he’ll be a part of the team’s future plans and a key contributor in the starting lineup.