NBA D-League: Pistons rookies gain valuable experience in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy wants his two rookies to get as much playing time as possible, even if it’s in practice situations.

But sometimes practice time isn’t an option for Henry Ellenson and Michael Gbinije when the Pistons play back-to-backs or go on long road trips.

Van Gundy has utilized the Grand Rapids Drive, the team’s NBA Development League affiliate, to keep the two rookies active this season.

“That’s one of the big reasons why we’re here is to give some of those guys with the Pistons uniform an opportunity to come down and get minutes and understand what this level is like and how there’s a lot of good players out there,” Drive coach Rex Walters said following his team’s 119-106 loss to the Austin Spurs on Friday night at DeltaPlex Arena.

Ellenson and Gbinije have been assigned to the Drive three times this season.

Their most recent trip to west Michigan was Wednesday when they helped Grand Rapids in its 99-91 loss to the Iowa Energy

Ellenson, a forward from Marquette the Pistons selected 18th overall in the 2016 NBA draft, scored 11 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in 39 minutes.

“Henry has got a dominant skill,” Walters said. “He can shoot the basketball. He’s a good decision-maker and can handle (the basketball) a little bit. At times, I think he overhandled it a little bit for us the other night.

“He can be a stretch four. If he can put on some size and weight, maybe he can be a stretch five. He’s got to get bigger and stronger. He’s a sophomore in college (by age) for crying out loud.”

The Drive (3-3) received 10 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes from Gbinije, who’s a swingman from Syracuse that Detroit took 49th overall in the draft.

“Gbinije has got an unbelievable head on his shoulders,” Walters said. “He’s smart and really intelligent. He understands the program, understands team defense at a high level. I think he’s got a really good chance to be a really good catch-and-shoot guy for them. In the Pistons’ system, I think he can play a role for them. I just think it’s going to be a question of time and reps.”

The pair still needs to get into better game shape.

“When Mike and Henry came down, I thought they were really tired the other night,” Walters said. “I thought they were a little worn out. They had a long shootaround. They worked out pretty hard, and then they drove 21/2 hours (from Auburn Hills) and played a game.”

The Pistons recalled Ellenson and Gbinije before the Drive’s game Friday.

Entering the night, Ellenson and Gbiniji had appeared in five and three games, respectively, for Detroit and each averaged fewer than three minutes per game.

They’ll likely end up in Grand Rapids a few more times this season to continue their development and keep their legs fresh.

The former Detroit Mercy point guard played well for the Pistons in three preseason games, averaging 22 minutes and five points per game. He figured to be in the mix for one of Detroit’s backup guard spots with the team starting the season without starter Reggie Jackson (left knee).

However, the Pistons released McCallum just 24 hours after final cuts because they claimed Beno Udrih off waivers. He signed with the Drive six days later.

“I think this has been good for me,” McCallum said. “The best way you get better is by playing, and I’m getting an opportunity to go out there and play a lot of minutes.

“I’m going out there and working on my game, and I’m just trying to work on running a team, becoming a complete player, knocking down open shots and finding open guys throughout the offense.”

McCallum has scored 19 or more points in four of the Drive’s five games.

“He’s doing a good job for us,” Walters said.

“I’m very comfortable with the kind of person he is, kind of player he is and with the decisions he makes out on the floor.”

The Sacramento Kings selected McCallum 36th overall in the 2013 draft. He bounced around the league his first two seasons and also played for San Antonio and Memphis before he signed with the Pistons on July 26.

He hopes he can improve enough to get back on an NBA roster this season.

“For me, I just want to be able to play on both ends of the floor, play offense and play defense, be a good defender,” McCallum said.

Detroit Free Press


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