The Grand Rapids Drive opened their season with a few familiar Pistons faces, so I decided to focus on Henry Ellenson, Michael Gbinije and Ray McCallum as I attended the season opener. The Grand Rapids Drive blew out the Canton Charge, 134-111.
I thought Ellenson looked much better than he did during summer league and the preseason. He finished with 18 points and nine rebounds. He was very involved in the Drive's offense, especially early, screening for teammates and handling and moving the ball around the perimeter.
He showed off his impressive skill set for a guy his size, going full-court with the ball after a couple rebounds. He was called for a charge on one of them, but in general it was effective as he got to the line a couple times. His shooting form looked repeatable and smooth, and he has pretty good moves to get enough space so that his jump shot gets off cleanly against almost anyone. He posted up smaller players and wasn't afraid to make quick decisions and pass out of the post-up.
Some of Ellenson's faults were obviously apparent too. He wasn't very efficient in the first half, as he doesn't take or make enough threes in general to stop relying on mid-range and long twos. He's always going to struggle with his efficiency unless he can get more shots off around the basket or from deep. He made a couple threes and tough shots in the second half that made up for missing open looks early.
Ellenson looked better than I expected defensively, and as a whole the team defended better with him in the game. Whenever he got switched onto a guard they would blow right by him, but he didn't have trouble defending in space against other forwards or in the post, and I don't think anyone on Canton made a shot against one of his closeouts. He had a bit of trouble protecting the rim in the second quarter playing center. His rebounding looked fine whenever he was actually in the vicinity of the basket, usually the Charge were trying to draw him out deep.
You could tell Gbinije is a role player by nature, as he wasn't asked to do much aside from spot up and play defense with Jordan Crawford and Ray McCallum, two NBA-level creators, also in the starting lineup.
He missed a couple threes early and passed up an open corner three shortly after his second miss. You would much rather just have him take that shot, although his pass did lead to a made three for Crawford. Gbinije connected a couple times in the second half and finished with eight points.
He looked as good as anyone defensively in a game without a lot of defense. He impacted passing lanes with his length without sacrificing positioning, and had an emphatic chase-down block in the third quarter. You can tell he's a smart player who can make quick decisions without over-committing. Most of Canton's scoring came from their point and shooting guards, and I think if Gbinije was playing one of those positions instead of the three he could've maybe limited that.
I didn't see anything super amazing from the Syracuse product, but he looked fine and maybe could be a viable 3-and-D guy at some point.
Nearing the end of the preseason McCallum was expected to be the Pistons' backup point guard while Reggie Jackson was out, and he looked like the best player on the floor for much of the night, finishing with 21 points and 10 assists. He deferred to his teammates early, but started attacking the basket more later in the game and there wasn't anything the Canton guards could really do about that.
I wouldn't say McCallum looked SO dominant and explosive that he's getting an NBA call-up soon. But he's generally considered an NBA-caliber player and should look excellent in a game like this, so I'm happy for him that he did. The Pistons were willing to go with another team's castoff that they didn't have in for camp instead of him, so I don't think they are likely to be the team that has a home for him. But if double-doubles, efficient scoring, transition dunks and alley-oops become the norm for McCallum in the D-League we probably haven't seen the last of him in the NBA.
Next up for the Drive is another matchup against the Charge, this time in Canton - but not until Friday, November 18.