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Pistons need to better utilize Grand Rapids Drive

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For more reasons than their own...

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

What do the Pistons have in Henry Ellenson? Wouldn’t that be a cool thing to know?

On Thursday night against the Wizards, Ellenson found his way into the rotation thanks to an injured Blake Griffin and was reasonably effective.

Hat tip to Crosseyed as that someone.

In 2014 the Springfield Armor was acquired to become the Pistons affiliate (then) D-League team and moved to Grand Rapids. Precisely to let the team figure out what they have with a young player like Ellenson.

With just a handful of games left in his second season, Ellenson only has 343 career minutes. Somewhat amazingly, he also has exactly 343 career G-League minutes. After playing 21 games in Grand Rapids last year, Ellenson was still buried on the depth chart this season but only played two games for the Drive.

Wade Baldwin has more career NBA minutes than Ellenson, and he was cut by his team after his rookie season.

Stan Van Gundy is often erroneously criticized for sacrificing the future for the sake of the present. That has rarely actually been true. But in the case of Ellenson, it seems to be. Instead of giving the 21 year old a chance to actually play meaningful minutes, Ellenson seemed to stick around with the Pistons just in case if the power forwards ahead of him got hurt.

In a wasted season, it was that much more of a waste for Ellenson as he sat and watched as the third string power forward.

Moreover, the G-League has proven to be an effective player development tool. Just ask Golden State how they like Quinn Cook’s G-League seasoning, or the Knicks with Trey Burke (or TREY BURKE if you prefer). Even the Pistons benefited from Dwight Buycks coming up from the Drive.

This isn’t a rant about the use of Ellenson though. Yes, he should have spent the majority of his season in the G-League, given the Pistons a chance to see what he can do, and given Ellenson a chance at meaningful play.

But this isn’t about Henry Ellenson or Luke Kennard. It’s about Darius Bazley.

Bazley announced that he will not attend Syracuse as he had initially intended, instead playing with the G-League next season. It’s the first time that a player even near Bazley’s caliber, who is a five star recruit and in the top 10 in his class, has chosen that route.

SVG has never been shy about voicing his opinion on issues outside of the Pistons organization, including with the NCAA, saying:

“The NCAA is one of the worst organizations -- maybe the worst organization -- in sports. They certainly don’t care about the athlete. They’re going to act like they’re appalled by all these things going on in college basketball. Please, it’s ridiculous and it’s all coming down on the coaches.”

“People that were against [players] coming out [of high school] made a lot of excuses, but I think a lot of it was racist. I’ve never heard anybody go up in arms about [minor-league baseball or hockey]. They are not making big money and they’re white kids primarily and nobody has a problem. But all of a sudden you’ve got a black kid that wants to come out of high school and make millions. That’s a bad decision, but bypassing college to go play for $800 a month in minor league baseball? That’s a fine decision? What the hell is going on?”

“I’ve always been in favor of that. I’ve been in favor of that strictly on a fairness issue. ... You can turn 18 and go work anywhere else. An 18-year-old, if they’re talented enough, can come into your profession and get a job. I think, personally, and now I’m definitely on a soap box, but the people against them coming out made a lot of excuses, but I think a lot of it was racist, quite honestly.”

Whew. Ok, that’s a lot to unpack and I’m not going to do that. The important things are 1) the criticism of the NCAA and 2) the rant. I agree with a lot of what he says, but “says” is the important part there.

If the G-League is going to become a viable alternative to the NCAA, SVG needs to do his part to contribute to that. It’s always been easy to dismiss the G-League. Too many gimmick offenses, not enough talent. Some folks will rise out of it, sure, but there’s a reason the league was able to sell the “development” out of the name of it. They don’t take it seriously enough.

The move to two-way player contracts was a good one. Increasing player salaries was also a step in the right direction. But getting as much talent into each game is the next step. That’s how teams will start taking prospect performance in the G-League seriously.

Quinn Cook has spent three seasons in the G-League averaging 23 points per game on 60 percent true shooting percentage and 6 assists, and it took him this long to get a crack at the NBA. That’s a great indication of how seriously executives take G-League performance. Teams actually assigning their prospects to the league rather than holding them back as third stringers at their position is essential to changing that.

Bazley’s decision was a brave one. SVG can be brave enough to possibly have to play someone slightly out of position for part of one game in case of injury.

With much of what Stan Van Gundy has spoken out about in the past, there’s little that he is able to do to influence the situation with other than speaking out. But this one is different.

If you believe that the NCAA is exploitative (which it is) or that the age limit is bull (which it is), he has the ability to do something about it. Contribute toward an alternative.