For the second straight year, the Detroit Pistons zagged in the second round. Last year they took Darrun Hilliard with the 38th pick after he was on the fringes of the draft radar. This year it was Michael Gbinije with the 49th pick.
Only 11 players were selected behind Gbinije, which only allows for so high of a raised eyebrow. But there were some interesting names among those 11, including French stretch power forward Petr Cornelie and a prolific local point guard Kay Felder.
But like with Hilliard, looking closer at Gbinije, it’s easy to see what Stan Van Gundy, Jeff Bower, and their scouting staff liked. In fact, he bears many of the same traits as Hilliard - a four-year player, a versatile, good-not-great shooter, decent athleticism and defensive potential.
Gbinije was also the best player on his team, helping lead Syracuse to a Final Four appearance as a senior. Hilliard’s Villanova squad made an early exit in the tournament, but did post an impressive 33-3 record.
Gbinije was his team’s primary point guard and filled up the box score for the Orange. He led the ACC in minutes and steals, was third in assists, and fifth in points.
His shooting was something of an interesting mixed bag. He knocked down the three point shot consistently, hitting 39 percent in his junior and senior seasons. But he struggled at the line, making 57 and 66 percent in those respective seasons.
It’s also tough to gauge Gbinije’s defensive chops thanks to Syracuse’s 2-3 defense. But Gbinije gained some international experience with the Nigerian team, winning the FIBA Africa tournament to earn an appearance at this summer’s Olympics.
The Nigerian team went just 1-4, but Gbinije was a key contributor appearing in four of the games with 21 minutes per game. He shot the ball well (4/7 from three, made both of his two free throws) and verified his college production by helping out accumulating some assists, steals, and boards.
Interestingly, Gbinije had actually never been to Nigeria at the time when he helped the squad qualify for the Olympics. He was eligible for the team since his father was a native of the country.
Also interestingly, Gbinije squared off against both of his Hall of Famer college coaches in the Olympics, Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski. Team USA routed Nigeria and Gbinije struggled in the game.
Gbinije started his college career at Duke under Krzyzewski after being a four-star recruit out of high school. But he played very little as a freshman and considered giving up on basketball. Instead he followed his former AAU coach, who had just become an assistant coach at Syracuse. And he almost wasn’t able to even get traction there either.
"I didn't like him at all," Boeheim said. "He went to Duke, and I really didn't think that he was that good to be honest with you. He couldn't shoot, and he was not really a guard."
Well, he eventually found his groove with the school and was able to leverage it into an Olympics appearance and the start of a NBA career.
It’s been a pretty interesting ride.
So where does Gbinije look to fit in with the Pistons?
No matter which position he settles into, it’s another tough road to get on the court in Detroit. The Pistons look to enter the season with three experienced point guards in Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, and the winner of the Ray McCallum/Lorenzo Brown matchup. Stanley Johnson looks to swallow all of the backup shooting guard and small forward minutes. Darrun Hilliard and Reggie Bullock are fighting over any leftovers.
In all likelihood, Gbinije will spend most of the season in the D-League, playing with the Grand Rapids Drive. This probably stands to benefit him most though. It’ll give him a chance to practice with the team, learn the system, but also carve out his identity for what type of NBA player he looks to be - whether it’s a big point guard or secondary ball handler on the wing.
As a 24 year old prospect, Gbinije will need to make the most of his time on the court -especially if he does see NBA action. It’ll be an uphill climb for him to stick in the league, but it wouldn’t be his first time making a summit like that.
D-League: 27 games, 17 points per game, 45/35/69 shooting, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals