ORLANDO – If the takeaway from day one of Pistons Summer League was the ability of Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard to make tough shots, the lesson of day two was their ability to make plays.
“I think guys were really good, being unselfish today, finding guys running the floor or just popping for three,” Ellenson said after racking up four of the team’s 23 assists in a wire-to-wire 103-78 win over the Knicks that wasn’t that close. “Just being able to show playmaking skills and Luke did a very good job with that, too. That’s just a lot of fun when the ball’s flying around like that.”
Ellenson got the ball rolling with a few eye-opening assists off the dribble in the first quarter, another aspect of his game rare in virtual 7-footers and a big part of why Stan Van Gundy sees such offensive potential for Ellenson. He created layups for both Eric Moreland off the dribble within the half-court offense and for Kennard while leading the fast break as the Pistons took a double-digit lead in the first quarter.
Kennard got into the act in the second quarter, creating a highlight-reel dunk for Michael Gbinije off a drive from the wing to the basket that drew multiple defenders.
“Just trying to make different plays and just be a playmaker and passing comes along with that,” Kennard said. “So any chance I can get the best shot for the team, if I need to make an extra pass, I’m going to do that. I guess that’s just part of my game and the way that I try to make plays.”
Ellenson followed up his 21-point, nine-rebound opener with 14 points, seven boards and two steals to go with his four assists. Kennard came back with 14 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals after his 16-point debut on Saturday. The Pistons had five players in double figures, led by Moreland’s 15, and eight players with an assist, led by backup point guard Pierre Jackson’s seven in 16 minutes.
Kennard didn’t shoot it as well on day two after hitting 4 of 6 from the 3-point line in the opener, hitting 1 of 5 from the arc, but that’s the aspect of his game that causes the Pistons the least concern. It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Kennard from wrapping up draft workouts to attending the draft in New York, having his introductory press conference at The Palace and going through seven Pistons practices in four days last week before Saturday’s Summer League opener. So hitting 5 of 11 from the 3-point arc so far is pretty impressive.
“I’m actually feeling pretty good,” Kennard said. “Just this process of taking care of your body is one of the biggest things in this league. Taking advantage of the rest that we can get. I know we don’t play tomorrow, so take advantage of the time we get off and we’ll be ready to go for the next game.”
Five of his teammates hit a pair of triples, including Ellenson in four attempts. The Pistons are mining the depths of Ellenson and Kennard’s versatility to see where it might lead and there are sparks of chemistry flying off of them in early reviews.
“For sure,” Ellenson said. “Being able to play with him just complements each other. He’s a threat, so guys have to respect that. (It) gives me a lot of space off the pop. I think the first two games, he’s done a really good job and continuing to grow.”
The third Pistons roster player on the Summer League team, Gbinije, finished with eight points. In a fight to convince the Pistons to pick up the second year of his contract, Gbinije has shot 5 of 18 overall and 4 of 11 from the 3-point line in two games.
Moreland, meanwhile, has stamped himself as a player worth watching. The Pistons are in the market for a No. 3 center, a player they’ll almost certainly sign to a league minimum contract, and Moreland figures to be under consideration given the time the Pistons are giving him – 26 minutes a game – and the numbers he’s put up: 12.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.0 blocked shots.
Moreland, who spent two injury-plagued seasons with Sacramento after going undrafted in 2014 out of Oregon State before playing in the D-League last year, said after the game he doesn’t intend to play for another team in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Ellenson and Kennard are the two guys the Pistons know – absolutely, positively – will be on the roster. And for an offense that too often lacked the lubricating quality of sharp passing to turn the wheels last season, their ability to create scoring chances for others has to give Van Gundy something to chew on.
“We played that way today. We had a lot of success with it,” Kennard said. “Everybody was really involved. We were a very unselfish basketball team today and we had a lot of success with that.”