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Pistons rookies skip western swing, join Grand Rapids

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — The goal for most rookies is getting playing time, no matter the position.

For Henry Ellenson and Michael Gbinije, the playing time with the Pistons has been scarce because of the veteran depth built through free agency.

They’ll get some work to keep the rust off over the next week, as they’ll be with the D-League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Drive, while the Pistons are on their four-game West Coast trip.

The Drive will participate in a three-team scrimmage at The Palace today and continue practicing next week before their season opener on Friday. That’ll give the rookies a good chance to stay in game shape and not just languish on the bench, as they have for most of the first five games of the Pistons’ season.

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said the plan is to have Ellenson and Gbinije play a half in each of the two games, or about 30 minutes each and then be dressed for the Pistons’ matchup Saturday against the Nuggets, if they’re needed.

“Barring injury tomorrow, they’ll practice with us Sunday and when we head west, they’ll go to Grand Rapids for the week and practice, because they’re still practicing hard and a lot of 5-on-5 and actually go two-a-day twice,” Van Gundy said.

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“I talked to them after the Brooklyn game the other night and they knew going into the season it was a possibility.”

Each of the rookies has played in two games and Ellenson has a field goal and five rebounds in his five total minutes. Gbinije is 0-for-2, both 3-pointers, but has made a pair of free throws. Van Gundy said it’s not about the numbers with the rookies, though; he was encouraged by their production in training camp and during the preseason.

The opening week of the schedule made it difficult for them to get much done in practice and spending time with the Drive will help them stay ready.

“I thought they were both playing very well in the preseason and we hit a stretch with five games in eight days, so even when we practiced, it was pretty limited and you could see the day before the New York game, the little bit of 4-on-4 and 5-on-5, they were out of rhythm and out of sync,” Van Gundy said. “We don’t want them to take a step back in their development, because they’re both really good players.”

The plans for having the rookies play with the Drive is only temporary and is more contingent on the rest of the Pistons’ roster staying healthy. Without Reggie Jackson (hamstring) and Reggie Bullock (hip pointer), the bench is a little thinner, but Van Gundy has been staying with a nine-man rotation, which has limited the rookies’ minutes.

Van Gundy was sure to point out the benefits of playing in the D-League to Ellenson and Gbinije, so they didn’t misinterpret it as a demotion or negative. With the Pistons’ schedule on the West Coast trip, there won’t be much time for them to do much besides light practices, so the heavier workload will be a benefit.

“It’s for their development and as I told them, it’s because we’re so happy and so excited about them that we don’t want them taking any step back,” Van Gundy said. “They need to play basketball and continue to be coached and taught in live situations and they’ll get that in Grand Rapids with Rex (Walters) and his staff.”

Van Gundy noted some of the pluses of having a D-League team, such as having Brandon Jennings play a rehab game there after returning from his Achilles injury and for Darrun Hilliard and Bullock, who were solid contributors for the Pistons after having spent some time with the Drive last season.

Ellenson and Gbinije also will benefit from playing with some former NBA talent on the Drive roster, including Ray McCallum Jr., Jordan Crawford and Shannon Brown.

Jackson update

Van Gundy said Jackson’s status remains the same and although he gets regular reports from trainer Jon Ishop, Jackson hasn’t resumed basketball activities. Bullock, who had been suffering from back spasms and has missed all five games, improved a bit, but had another setback.

Bullock didn’t practice on Friday and whether he’ll be available for the West Coast trip is unclear.

“The back was getting better and (a few players) came in and played yesterday on their day off,” Van Gundy said. “(Bullock) got hit on a screen and now he has a hip pointer. He’s not having any luck.”

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard