Hilliard (plus rookies Ellenson, Gbinije) heads to D-League for 2-game stint

Darrun Hilliard
Darrun Hilliard will play 2 games with the Grand Rapids Drive, Pistons D-League affiliate, as will Henry Ellenson and Michael Gbinije.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – When the Pistons spent 10 days traipsing through the great American west a few weeks ago, the Grand Rapids Drive were in the midst of a parallel five-game road trip to nearby locales. It was the perfect opportunity for them to make use of their D-League affiliate and still have players at hand if needed.

Except they were already needed by the Pistons. Jon Leuer and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were injured. Reggie Bullock began the trip still recovering from December knee surgery and needed a few days away to tend to personal business. Besides that, one of the players who would’ve been loaned to the Drive, rookie Michael Gbinije, was sidelined with a deep bone bruise in his right forearm.

But all their recoveries converged over the past few weeks to give Stan Van Gundy use of his full 15-man roster for the first time all season. And so when the Pistons left their practice facility Friday afternoon to board a flight for Miami and eventually to Boston, three among their ranks – Gbinije, fellow rookie Henry Ellenson and second-year guard Darrun Hilliard – were headed for New York to join the Drive.

They’ll play against New York’s Westchester D-League affiliate on Saturday and against Delaware, Philadelphia’s affiliate, on Monday while the Pistons are playing the Heat and Celtics.

“So they were able to get in the two good practices (Thursday and Friday) with us,” Van Gundy said. “Two of the three of them would’ve been inactive in the two games, anyway, and chances are we won’t do a whole lot in Boston on the day in between games. If somebody did get hurt tomorrow night, then we can fly them to Boston."

Ellenson has played six games with the Drive this season, averaging 18.3 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting .429 overall and .342 from the 3-point line in 34 minutes a game. Gbinije in five games has averages of 13.2 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting .394 from the 3-point arc in 35 minutes a game.

Hilliard has yet to play with the Drive this season, but had positive experiences last season, averaging 25.7 points and shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line over his three games.

But Hilliard has been used sparingly this season and struggled a few weeks ago when injuries presented an opportunity. In two extended stints – a win over Charlotte and a loss at Golden State – Hilliard shot 2 of 18.

“Darrun’s been playing really, really well in practice and when we’ve given him time in games, he’s really struggled,” Van Gundy said. “We did it with Stanley (Johnson) earlier in the year. Sometimes being able to go down and play 30 minutes where you’re not feeling the pressure of fighting for minutes and get your confidence back and get your game going can help you.”

Reggie Bullock also helped get himself going with a one-game outing for Grand Rapids last winter.

“I did it before, last year. Hoping I can do it again,” Hilliard said. “Went down there and played well. It’s another chance for me to go down there and just go hoop. Stan thinks that’s best for me, so I’ll go down there and take advantage of my opportunities. Go down to play with the young guys like Henry and Mike, should be fun basketball.”

Hilliard – shooting .326 overall and .257 from the 3-point arc while averaging 11 minutes in the 26 games he’s appeared – is feeling pressure to perform as soon as he hits the court, Van Gundy believes.

“Darrun’s a guy who puts a lot of pressure on himself and that first play doesn’t go well, he struggles,” he said. “He’s got to overcome that, but I think this might help him a little bit.”

“I do put a lot of pressure on myself and I’m supposed to – that’s why I got here,” Hilliard said. “I don’t think it’s a lack of confidence. I don’t think it’s a lack of believing in myself. I want to be great. I don’t want to be that guy who just made it into the league and then left. I want to be here for a while and great my respect.”

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