HOUSTON – Of the 57 minutes Henry Ellenson has logged over 15 NBA games in his rookie season, seven came when a game hung in the balance. It happened in the first half at Sacramento on Jan. 10 with Jon Leuer injured and the Pistons in foul trouble.
He figures to top that total in the first half at Houston tonight when the 20-year-old gets his first NBA start.
With four games left in the season and the Pistons all but officially out of the playoff race, Stan Van Gundy will give Ellenson and Boban Marjanovic playing time in each of these final games.
“Those two guys in particular, Henry and Boban, are guys that we hope can be real contributors next year and we’ve got four games to get them some minutes,” Van Gundy said after Friday’s shootaround.
Van Gundy’s aim is to give both players about 20 to 24 minutes a game but do it in a way that will help provide meaningful assessments of their standing. That means Ellenson will open the game with conventional starters Andre Drummond, Ish Smith, Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marjanovic will take Aron Baynes’ minutes with the second unit.
“I don’t want to get in a situation where we’re just throwing the bottom seven guys out there together,” Van Gundy said. “I just don’t know for Henry if you get a real learning experience out of that and I don’t know that we learning anything from that. So he’s going out there with the starters tonight so we can see how he fits. I think that’s more of a learning tool for him and for us.”
Ellenson got word this morning and informed his parents and best friend back in Rice Lake, Wis. They won’t be able to attend, but will watch.
“Great thing about League Pass is they’ll be able to watch,” he said. “I’m just excited. Of course, they’ll be watching.”
The Pistons have made extensive use of the D-League for Ellenson this season, giving him more than 700 minutes played in 21 games with averages of 17.9 points and 8.9 rebounds a game. So he might have butterflies for his first NBA start, but he’ll have plenty of recent playing experience against players who for the most part are several years older to draw upon.
“That’s why I went down to the D-League, to get some playing time,” he said. “That get in-game opportunity. Obviously, it’s not like the NBA, but to be able to go up and down a little bit, I think helped me be prepared for be ready for this.”
Van Gundy will be watching Ellenson most intently on the defensive end of the floor. He’s already seen enough from Ellenson on offense to know he’s got the tools to make an NBA impact at that end.
“He’s learned a lot. I know he’s gotten stronger,” Van Gundy said. “I’m really eager to see how he does defensively. Regardless of how he does offensively over these last four games, I’ve got pretty good confidence in his offensive ability and his offensive instincts. So I’m really interested in how much he can hold his own defensively.”
Van Gundy said that Jon Leuer will have his role reduced tonight to accommodate Ellenson’s opportunity, though Leuer might play some at center if Houston puts Ryan Anderson there. Over the last three games, Ellenson will likely take minutes from Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris, as well.