Gbinije’s 3-and-D potential being honed as he welcomes D-League stints

Mike Gbinije
Pistons rookie Michael Gbinije is showing his potential as a 3-and-D player with the D-League’s Grand Rapids Drive.
Dennis Slagle/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – If Michael Gbinije doesn’t beat the odds against a player drafted 49th carving out a meaningful NBA career, it won’t be due to an inability to self assess. Gbinije fully understands the portal through which he must pass to crack an NBA rotation.

At least Stan Van Gundy’s rotation.

“Especially for this team,” he said. “It starts with the defensive end. Van Gundy’s defensive minded and you’ve got to stop people in order to win games. I think that’s a way to get your foot in the door.”

And Gbinije has a leg up, if you will, on getting that foot in the door. Van Gundy is very high on his defensive potential. He recently called him “probably our best” in terms of length and the ability to move his feet on the perimeter.

“He’s really good in combination of length and quickness,” Van Gundy said. “He’s really, really good moving his feet. He’s got a lot to learn, like anybody does, but he can really move his feet and I think his defensive instincts are pretty good.”

Gbinije isn’t necessarily a top scoring prospect, but he’s got a skill set that helps make an offense go. He’s a good ballhandler – he slid over to point guard to fill a hole in his senior season at Syracuse – and passer who possesses one critical skill that figures to translate well to the NBA: a 3-point shot.

“I think it’s certainly possible that he can defend all three perimeter positions,” Van Gundy said. “That is a valuable thing. Plus, he can shoot the ball. So guys who can defend and shoot the ball are valuable. I don’t think – right now, anyway – he’s not going to be a big scorer. He’s not a guy hunting his shot. But I think he can be one of those guys who can defend at one end and is a threat to shoot the ball at the other end. That’s valuable.”

Gbinije has had some quiet games in the D-League – he took just one shot in 31 minutes in a Drive win last week while Darrun Hilliard scored 29 and Henry Ellenson 20 – but erupted for 29 in the Drive’s win on Saturday. He hit 5 of 9 3-point shots and grabbed nine rebounds.

In 10 games with the Drive, Gbinije is averaging 12.7 points and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 39 percent from the 3-point line. He’s trying to blend two influences: playing while being mindful of his projected NBA role as a complementary player while also looking to be more aggressive when scoring chances arise.

“That’s one thing I need to work on, being more aggressive at the offensive end,” he said. “Going down and playing with Rex (Walters, Drive head coach) and the Drive gets me an opportunity to do so. I just try to take advantage of it.”

Gbinije was initially ambivalent about his D-League assignments – appreciative of the chance to play but naturally reluctant to leave his NBA team behind – but now, he says, he lights up when Van Gundy ships him out, usually with Ellenson.

“I get excited every time because I want to play, so whenever Stan tells me, in the back of my mind I’m like, yes, I get to play,” he said. “It’s like 100 percent positive for me now. I’ll play anywhere I can.”

Gbinije and Ellenson struck up a friendship before draft night last June, participating in predraft workouts together under the auspices of their management firm, Roc Nation. When they make the two-plus hour drive across the state, Ellenson is usually at the wheel while Gbinije sleeps. Ellenson convinced his teammate to follow his lead and get a cat. Gbinije named his Jack Daniels. Gbinije says he’s still working on influencing Ellenson. “He’s pretty tough,” he grinned.

NBA players on D-League assignments run the risk of rubbing their teammates without NBA affiliation the wrong way, but the rookies have fit in seamlessly and are welcomed whenever they visit.

“It is a second home,” Gbinije said. “We’re used to it there, interact with fans. People sit courtside the way they sit courtside here and the chemistry is getting better with the guys there when we go back down. Everything’s just starting to feel more comfortable.”

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