Detroit — As coach Stan Van Gundy works his way through the preseason, trying to iron out a playing rotation, one thing is clear — he’s not going to just carbon copy what he did last season. With some roster changes and some improvements by young players, he’s taking a look at turning the rotation on its head.
In Wednesday’s preseason opener, Henry Ellenson was the first reserve off the bench and played well, scoring 10 points in 20 minutes. That was one of the bright spots that Van Gundy highlighted from the loss, seeing that Ellenson backed up his strong training camp with a good first game.
“Henry and I have talked about he’s a good 3-point shooter, but let’s not just become a 3-point shooter,” Van Gundy said. “We’re putting three guys out there who are 21 and those guys did OK.”
Ellenson, along with Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard, had good first outings, but they’ll have to back it up with more good production before Van Gundy will grant them more quality playing time.
It’s a boost for Ellenson, who played in only 19 games last season and struggled to find playing time because of a crowded frontcourt. After some work this summer, he’s fine-tuned his game and is better prepared to handle the defensive responsibilities, but won’t shift over to play backup center to share minutes with Boban Marjanovic.
Van Gundy said it’s more a focus on streamlining things for Ellenson and keeping him in a position to succeed as he gains more confidence and gets comfortable with a more regular role at power forward before piling on additional responsibilities on both ends of the court. Jon Leuer will get that role, while they look to get Ellenson into a good groove.
“Henry could play (center) but right now, he’s playing at a high confidence level,” Van Gundy said. “We don’t want to add confusion to him as a young guy. We try to limit him playing two spots.
“We could try playing him and Jon together and he could guard the center and that would be fine, but could still play the power forward and be confused.”
With Andre Drummond (pink eye) out for Friday’s matchup against the Atlanta Hawks, Leuer (6-foot-11) will slide into the starting role at center as Van Gundy looks to utilize Leuer’s versatility. Marjanovic played in the FIBA EuroBasket tournament, so he’s in good shape but Van Gundy doesn’t want to burn through a lot of minutes with Marjanovic in the preseason.
The plan for Friday’s game was to get a good look at third center Eric Moreland as well. He didn’t play in the opener but with more minutes to spread around, there’s an opportunity behind Marjanovic and Leuer.
It’s a chance to get a good look at Moreland, who had an outstanding week at the Orlando Summer League and signed as the third center.
“He’s here for a reason. Eric’s a high-energy guy, he runs the floor really hard, picks-and-rolls hard,” Van Gundy said. “When he’s at his best, he’s relentless on the offensive glass, he can move his feet defensively and he can really pass the ball.”
Besides Drummond, the Pistons also were without Reggie Jackson (sore groin), Reggie Bullock (knee) and Dwight Buycks (hip flexor). The Hawks were without Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and Marco Belinelli.
It’s the second straight preseason game that Jackson has missed because of the groin issue but they’re erring on the side of caution with trying to bring him back.
“(Reggie’s) not going to go. He probably could; (Head trainer Jon Ishop) just felt that being able to give him today and tomorrow is an off day for us — we'll get him back,” Van Gundy said. “He doesn’t want to take a chance of exacerbating it.”
Drummond’s absence appears to be short-lived, but the concern is that it could spread to other team members.
“Yesterday they started him on medicine but his eye swelled up more,” Van Gundy said. “What you’re worried about there is not only him but the fact that it’s contagious, so he can’t really play with it. He wasn’t here this morning because we don’t want to take a chance with anybody else.
“You’re not going to get pink eye sitting next to him but if you’re out there banging around and sweating and the sweat makes it worse.”
The training staff expects Drummond to return for Sunday’s practice, in preparation for Monday’s game against the Indiana Pacers and Tuesday’s matchup at Toronto.