Washington, D.C. — Pistons forward Henry Ellenson arrived at his locker, almost surprised that he had a small crowd of reporters waiting for him after a postgame shower.
It might be a more regular occurrence for Ellenson if he keeps posting stat lines like he did in the opener against the Charlotte Hornets: 13 points, with a pair of 3-pointers, and four rebounds in 16 minutes. The second-year forward validated coach Stan Van Gundy’s decision to play him over veteran Anthony Tolliver, who was inactive.
Van Gundy had spoken all preseason of the logjam at the big forward spot, between starter Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer, plus Ellenson and Tolliver — but neither of the final separated himself. Van Gundy admitted it wasn’t an easy decision, but wanting to have all three centers active to defend Dwight Howard pressed him to choose between three of the four forwards.
“It took forever to make the decision; that’s a really tough call. Tolliver is a veteran guy and great competitor and can really shoot the ball,” Van Gundy said Thursday. “Henry has played really well and I guess right now, if things are even, I’m going to give the young guy a chance to show us what he can do.
“I pretty much know what Tolliver can do — what you’re going to get is a guy who’s going to stay ready and he’s a tremendous pro. I don’t know with Henry. That’s the most meaningful NBA game that Henry has played in.”
Ellenson played in just 19 games last season as a rookie and posted 3.2 points and 2.2 rebounds in about 8 minutes per game. After an offseason of honing his game and getting stronger, he’s now in the regular rotation.
That was one of Van Gundy’s curiosities — and he has a better sense after a strong preseason and first game for Ellenson, who showed an ability to score from inside an outside, which convinced Van Gundy to draft him 18th overall.
Having some depth and competition at power forward is a luxury, but it’s generally going to mean that one of them will be inactive and sit out. Like a true veteran, Tolliver didn’t vent publicly about it, but he’s going to get his share of minutes as well.
“Tolliver is really good but I know what he is. With Henry, we’re still finding out what he is and what he can do — Henry is still finding out,” Van Gundy said. “Because I thought it was close — they both played well in the preseason — I went with Henry.”
Van Gundy said forward Stanley Johnson had back spasms at the end of Wednesday’s game, in which he played 40 minutes and went 0-of-13 from the field. None of the regulars who played significant minutes in the game practiced on Thursday.
With no shootaround on Thursday morning, there’s no indication whether Johnson will play Friday night against the Washington Wizards or in New York against the Knicks on Saturday.
Van Gundy said he hadn’t planned on playing Johnson so many minutes but with Reggie Bullock (suspension) out, he just wanted to keep one of his best defenders on the floor.
“(The Hornets) weren’t small there and it was hard to go with one of the other guards. I probably should have played Tobias at small forward a little bit more and Henry a little bit more at power forward,” he said. “Forty minutes was probably a bit extreme.”