Gbinije’s workmanlike approach to D-League trek wins SVG’s approval

Mike Gbinije
Pistons rookie Michael Gbinije made the best use of his time spent with the Grand Rapids Drive.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Baseball’s minor leagues are rife with relief pitchers who put up ridiculous strikeout numbers and post minuscule ERAs. But a fraction of them see that translate to major league success for wont of a secondary pitch or lack of pinpoint command.

The same principle, more or less, applies to the list of D-League scoring leaders. What gets them points in a league filled with very good players but ultimately one a big step below the NBA usually doesn’t carry over to the world’s greatest assemblage of basketball’s gifted.

So Stan Van Gundy had a different take on what he saw from Pistons rookie Michael Gbinije’s D-League debut last week than the reports he’d received from those who witnessed it firsthand.

“They felt he wasn’t aggressive enough offensively,” said Van Gundy, who watched a replay of Friday’s game in the wee hours of Sunday morning as the Pistons flew home from their Saturday win at Denver. “I didn’t really see it that way. I thought Mike took his game as a complementary player to the D-League and played the same way there that he would play in the NBA and played well.”

In other words, Gbinije – who opened Van Gundy’s eyes with his understated game and all-around competency after an uneven first week of training camp – played to the marching orders Van Gundy handed him. He didn’t go to the D-League feeling pressured to prove his status as an NBA player by piling up points.

On the other hand …

“It depends on how you look at it,” Gbinije said of the conflicting opinions of his nine-point outing as the Drive won easily to open the D-League season. “I wish I was more aggressive, but what’s done is done. I think the way I played fits the situation I’m in now, but I think I would’ve had more fun” – and here, Gbinije cracks a smile – “if I was more aggressive down there.”

Back to Van Gundy’s point. He’s not putting any limitations on what Gbinije can become, but his reality in 2016 – as a second-round pick playing behind Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock and Darrun Hilliard on the wings – is to defend, help facilitate offense and be a grinder.

“I know what everybody wants to see when you send a guy down, he puts up big numbers,” Van Gundy said. “Sometimes, that’s why those guys who are putting up big numbers in the D-League aren’t the guys that really help you when they come up. There aren’t too many teams I know of that are looking at the D-League to find a primary scorer. Normally, you’re looking for guys who’ll defend, move the ball, make open shots. Everybody wants to see guys go down and put up big numbers. That’s not really how Mike plays the game. It’s not really even how we’d want him to play the game.”

Gbinije came away from his five days spent with the Drive enthused about the experience and more than willing to return as Van Gundy sees fit.

“Absolutely. It was a huge learning experience for me. We did get after it. We put the work in and got better from it.”

Van Gundy is mulling the option of sending Gbinije and Henry Ellenson to Canton, Ohio, on Friday night – that will be the Drive’s second game – when the Pistons are playing in nearby Cleveland. He’ll wait until after tonight’s game in New York to make the call. Gbinije will approach it just as he did last week’s experience – with the same eagerness that has endeared him to Van Gundy.

“I just wanted to get better as a player and develop a better mindset as a basketball player – that’s what I think happened from the trip,” Gbinije said. “I learned a lot, both on and off the court. Every time you step on the court, you want to try your best. You want to learn something. And that’s what happened.”

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