The Grand Rapids Drive's 106-97 loss to the Delaware 87ers with three Pistons on their team Saturday night was a disappointment, but the game still provided plenty of material for discussion, both good and bad.
It would be seen as a failure if Stanley Johnson did anything but dominate D-League competition, but even held up to those lofty standards, Johnson played pretty well. Being there in person, his physical profile was undoubtedly impressive. Needless to say, you can tell he's the only guy on the floor who could survive being backed down by LeBron James.
He was amazing in the first half, throwing down four ridiculous dunks and finishing an alley-oop as well. He had 18 in the first half and finished with 26 points, five rebounds and four assists. I'd say he was the best player on the floor, which is to be expected, but not negligible since there are plenty of D-League players that can outplay NBA prospects even though they don't have NBA futures themselves. He's just so strong, smart and explosive he makes plays you don't see D-League players make.
He was also pretty efficient from the field, going 9-of-19 from the field and 3-of-8 from deep. When he missed, he missed badly, and he forced up a few bad shots here and there, especially very early in the shot clock after he brought the ball down the floor. His best work was definitely attacking the basket, but he couldn't create the opportunities to attack in the half-court on a consistent enough basis that the Drive could go to him when their offense started to struggle.
He's a good passer and is actually pretty reliable shooting a wide-open jumper, he just doesn't really have enough moves off the dribble to force a defense to bend. His profile is still really intriguing; he's fun as hell to watch and he's got a lot of good skills and attributes, he just doesn't excel in any one area that allows all his skills to really fit together into a dangerous basketball product ... at least not yet.
Here's the highlight reel from Johnson's night:
Johnson also looked like the Drive's best defensive player. He was an immovable object for even the strongest Delaware players and created some transition buckets with his quick hands. But ultimately he couldn't do enough by himself to combat the lack of rim protection.
Speaking of lack of rim protection, Henry Ellenson. I'm gonna eviscerate him a little here, so I'm sorry. To his credit, he was playing "out of position" at center, but it's hard to put into words how bad defensively Ellenson was in this game. I'm trying to think of a single positive about his defensive performance and drawing a blank.
Bigs easily out-muscled him for easy layups, putbacks, and hooks with deep post positioning. Guards and wings either blew by him or easily finished over or around him at the rim, and he repeatedly made poor decisions or late rotations that resulted in fouls or more uncontested layups. He argued with referees on the offensive end, leading to easy transition baskets for Delaware. He only had to close out twice on shooters and both times they hit threes as he couldn't get there in time. He had 10 rebounds, but that was in 37 minutes as the team's only true big man, and the Drive were badly out-rebounded with him on the floor.
Offensively, Ellenson was pretty effective playing at center. He didn't make up for all the points he gave up on the other end, but he certainly wasn't bad. He took the relatively frequent open looks he got from deep when the other big stuck to the paint. When they closed out, he was able to make a quick pass or pump fake and drive by to get free throws. He had 19 points (7-of-16 from the field, 3-of-6 from deep).
His post-ups, frankly, are pretty pointless. He can't get positioning closer than 15 feet from the basket, and even against a much smaller player he can't move them backwards. So he either passes out of the post-up without bending the defense and wastes a bunch of shot clock, or he shoots a contested 18-foot fadeaway that is unlikely to go in. He really needs to get stronger or become a Dirk-level shooter before it's worth it at all to give him the ball with his back to the basket. But I guess this is the time to work on that.
I was reasonably impressed with Michael Gbinije. He was 4-of-11 from three, which isn't bad, but he easily could've been 6-of-11 with how a couple of them rimmed in and out. More importantly, he looked super comfortable and smooth shooting the ball after being a lot more hesitant in his first two D-League games. He looked a lot closer to being an NBA-level bench floor spacer in this game than the other two times I've seen him.