Stan Van Gundy hasn’t backed off his assertion that whatever happened in Thursday’s NBA draft would have no impact on free agency.
Well, not much, at least.
But the unexpected gifting of Henry Ellenson to the Pistons has perhaps put a thumb on the scale of what was a 50-50 prioritization between backup point guard and conventionally sized power forward.
“I would say probably a slight edge to the backup point guard, especially after last night, because at least we’ve got a guy in Henry that provides us with that size,” Van Gundy said Friday with Ellenson towering behind him. “So backup point guard, I think, would be a little more of the priority, ideally. But sometimes you don’t get what you want. Ideally, we come out with both.”
Van Gundy is going to err on the side of caution with both of his rookies, Ellenson and second-rounder Michael Gbinije. But even Gbinije, taken with the 49th pick as a 24-year-old out of Syracuse who began his college career in 2011 at Duke, could have an impact on what else the Pistons do this off-season.
Because the Pistons see Gbinije as having the ability to play all around the perimeter, Van Gundy said they might sign only one true point guard to back up Reggie Jackson and utilize Gbinije as the No. 3 point guard, a position held the past two years mostly by little-used and recently traded Spencer Dinwiddie.
“Michael can play three positions, we think,” Van Gundy said. “How much point guard can he play and to the question of do we only sign one point guard, that’s something we’ll sort out in Summer League. That will be a good thing for us to look at. Coming out of Summer League, we know he’s a good player but if we think he could be ready to be a point guard and be our third point guard, then we would only go out and sign one. If we think, look, he’s more of a wing, it’s going to take time as a point guard, then we could sign another, a third point guard.”
Van Gundy said the plan is to start Gbinije at point guard on the Summer League roster alongside similarly sized Darrun Hillard at shooting guard and Stanley Johnson at small forward and employ a defense that can switch freely on the perimeter. Lorenzo Brown, who signed a non-guaranteed deal for 2016-17 when he joined the Pistons in the final week last season as insurance for an abdominal injury that kept Jackson out of one game, will also be in Orlando, as will free agent signee Phil Pressey.
Van Gundy’s scouting gurus, led by assistant general manager Brian Wright and GM Jeff Bower, believe Ellenson and Gbinije will be quicker studies than most rookies – Ellenson because of his advanced skill level for a big man and Gbinije for his vast college experience and versatility.
“We got very mature people with mature games,” Van Gundy said. “They know how to play and how to play with other people. I think that gives them a chance to adjust more quickly than some other guys. These aren’t guys just getting by on athletic ability, these are two good basketball players and that’s what I’m excited about. How quickly they’re able to get on the floor and play, that’s yet to be determined.”
One reason the Pistons are optimistic about Ellenson’s ability to contribute sooner than Van Gundy might have expected from the 18th pick is the way he handled the adjustment from high school basketball to college. In his one season at Marquette, he quickly became the central figure of his team, averaging 17 points and 9.7 rebounds a game in the competitive Big East.
“We’ll plan with veteran guys, but he’s going to be out here in practice every day and doing all that. When he’s the best guy, he’ll play. It’s going to be quicker than most 19-year-olds, I think, because I just think he’s got a really, really good feel for the game. But he’s still 19 and for bigger guys it’s even different because that’s where the game gets physical.”
Ellenson will spend the bulk of his off-season at the team’s Auburn Hills practice facility, Van Gundy said, where he’ll be working with assistant coach Malik Allen – when Allen isn’t dedicated to Andre Drummond at his Santa Barbara, Calif., training center – staff assistant Aaron Gray, Van Gundy and other Pistons assistant coaches and staffers. Gbinije’s summer is likely to be dominated by competing with the Nigerian national team at the Rio Olympics.
Van Gundy said Nigerian officials are giving Gbinije “a little push-back” about participating with the Pistons in Summer League. Asked if he thought the issue could be resolved, Van Gundy said, “I think so because I think they need him. I don’t think they have players better than him, so I think it’ll work out. But you never know.”
Van Gundy and the Pistons traveling party heads to Orlando on Monday and they’ll get six or seven practices under their belts before Summer League play begins July 2. By then, they’ll already hope to have some clues about how much, if any, Thursday’s draft will dictate the way they attack free agency.