SVG pegs Griffin’s return at 50-50; Ellenson in line for more time over final 4 games

Blake Griffin’s return is ‘no better than 50-50’ for the season’s final 4 games, Stan Van Gundy says
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – There was a time – not so long ago – when the acquisition of Blake Griffin might have buried Henry Ellenson on the Pistons depth chart beyond all hope of resuscitation.

But in an era with ever more sophisticated defenses placing an even greater premium on pure scoring ability, Ellenson’s unique package of offensive skills will have Stan Van Gundy scheming ways to put them to use – perhaps in tandem with Griffin.

It went almost completely overlooked in the sting of Wednesday’s loss to Philadelphia that snuffed out the last faint hope of a playoff run for the Pistons, but Van Gundy played Ellenson at center for the last 1:25 of the first half to prevent Andre Drummond from picking up a third foul.

“I’m not so sure that’s not his position in today’s game,” Van Gundy said after Thursday’s practice. “But he does need to be able to play both positions, I think. And he practices there, so he’s not uncomfortable playing there.”

Given the evolution of the position with more teams making use of centers in Ellenson’s mold – at least as comfortable playing on the perimeter and facing the basket as opposed to in the post – it’s just as likely he’d find a more suitable matchup at center as at power forward against most rosters.

In any case, it’s likely Ellenson is in line for more minutes over the season’s final four games. Griffin has missed the past four games with a right ankle bone bruise and with the playoffs no longer a possibility there will be an extra measure of caution applied to his return.

“I don’t know if that’s going to come or not,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve only got six days left. Four games in six days. Whether we see him again, I have no idea. But it’s certainly no better than 50-50.”

Griffin continues to push for a return, working to maintain his cardiovascular conditioning on anti-gravity treadmills and other aerobic equipment. He punished a rowing machine the other day, Van Gundy said.

“He rode the bike. He was Lance Armstrong today,” Van Gundy said. “He’s working hard. That’s not a problem there. He’s definitely a worker, no question.”

Anthony Tolliver has continued his upward arc in Griffin’s absence, averaging 16.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 33 minutes while shooting .667 overall and .609 from the 3-point line. Van Gundy isn’t likely to make many concessions to their postseason reality, but Ellenson probably will start getting a few of Tolliver’s minutes with Griffin sidelined.

“I would think that he would play some more minutes, but we’ll see,” Van Gundy said of Ellenson. “I think he’s developed pretty well. He’s come on. He’s gotten better. Over this four-game stretch, he’s played pretty well. I’d like him to shoot the ball better, but I think he’s played pretty well.”

In the four games since Griffin was sidelined and Ellenson was plugged into the rotation, he’s averaged 6.0 points and 3.3 rebounds in 15 minutes a game while shooting .381 overall and .286 from the 3-point line.

The one thing Van Gundy knows he’ll get from Ellenson: the same diligence and effort he’s logged even through the disappointment of spending most of the season outside the rotation. Ellenson will use whatever time he gets in the season’s final week as a launching pad for another critical off-season – and if he makes the same year-over-year leap, it’ll be that much tougher to keep him out of the lineup next season at either frontcourt position.

“It’s tough just because you work all season and to not be eliminated, it hurts,” he said after the loss to Philadelphia. “We had different goals coming into the year, but we’ve just got to finish out strong. For me, just another opportunity to keep learning out there on the court. That’s how I’m going to take it, just as a learning experience to get better with your teammates.”

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