SVG: Pistons youngsters Kennard, Ellenson making strides
Detroit — With one game to go, Stan Van Gundy still isn’t ready to start looking back and gauge the Pistons’ season yet. There are still 48 minutes to play and some more observation and breakdown to be done.
The Pistons face the Bulls in the regular-season finale tonight and have a chance to get to 39 wins, with some more quality playing time for the young players such as Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard.
Kennard had 20 points and Ellenson 12 in the Pistons’ 108-98 loss to the Toronto Raptors in the home finale on Monday night, and every minute and every rep still hold some value for Van Gundy in assessing their value.
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With a 38-43 record, the Pistons won’t make it to .500 this season, but in figuring out how to improve over the summer, Van Gundy is using the increased playing time as an incentive and a gauge for figuring out a plan for Kennard and Ellenson over the summer.
In the first half, Kennard was aggressive, finding his shot and making his first four attempts from the field.
“Luke was better defensively and had seven defensive rebounds,” Van Gundy said Monday night. “He scored and he can make plays. He’s finding his way to get to the free-throw line and could have found a way to shoot four to six more free throws tonight if he were a veteran guy and had respect from those (referees).”
Ellenson played 22 minutes and struggled defensively guarding Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, who had 25 points and nine rebounds. It’s a tough assignment for Ellenson, but if he’s going to get increased minutes throughout next season, his conversion to a backup center may be the best path.
Against frontline starters, it’s a difficult expectation, but if he’s facing reserves, Ellenson should be able to hold his own.
Andre Drummond was scratched from Monday’s game because of a sore Achilles. It’s been something of a rarity for Drummond to be injured and to miss games. He played in 60 games his rookie season, but missed three total games for the next four seasons. He’s at 78 games this season and it’s uncertain whether he’ll feel well enough for the finale.
That left the Pistons without three starters, as Blake Griffin and Reggie Bullock also missed the game. Whether Griffin plays in the final game is unclear, but with no practice Tuesday and the Pistons out of playoff contention, it’s unlikely that Griffin would return just for one game.
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The injury bug has impacted the Pistons’ season directly, with Reggie Jackson missing 37 games and Griffin’s bone bruise in his right ankle sidelining him for the end of the season.
“Our record is what it is. We’re 38-42 with two to go. You have to accept that and the judgment that goes with that. Looking forward, I have great confidence that this can be a good basketball team,” Van Gundy said. “You have Blake, Andre and Reggie. We had them together for 4 games; we probably need a few more games of them playing together at the same time if we’re going to be good.
“I have great confidence that the team will be good, but you still have to own the 38 wins; you can’t run from that.”
Good with the move
The Pistons finished their first season at Little Caesars Arena with a 25-16 record. The lament still is missing the playoffs, but the response and acceptance they got from the fan base gave a stamp of approval to the move to downtown Detroit.
“Everything’s been good. We would have like to play better and been coming down the stretch and playing for something really meaningful,” Van Gundy said. “It’s been good and the move downtown has been positive; we just need to play better.”