AUBURN HILLS – There’ll be no playoff berth at stake when the Pistons wrap up the season Wednesday in Orlando and no spoiler’s role to play. The two players headed for unrestricted free agency, Aron Baynes and Beno Udrih, are unlikely to play – Baynes just because Stan Van Gundy wants to get another look at Boban Marjanovic, Udrih due to injury.
It won’t be the final game of their home for 29 years, either, the Pistons bidding The Palace adieu on Monday night.
But if you know anything about Stan Van Gundy, you know he’ll approach Game 82 at Orlando with the same sense of purpose and resolve as each of the 915 other games he’s coached across three NBA stops.
Here’s a quick look at the things that probably top his checklist for the Orlando finale:
- One more look at Henry Ellenson. The rookie averaged a double-double in his first two games, weekend wins at Houston and Memphis, but struggled in Monday’s Palace finale – his third game in four nights and paired against a cagey veteran, Markieff Morris. It’s going to be a big summer for Ellenson, as they always are for players transitioning from rookie to second-year pro with expectations, with a concentration on getting stronger and working on upping his athleticism and lateral quickness. Those are the keys to Ellenson improving enough at the defensive end to warrant the minutes that will enable Van Gundy and the Pistons to exploit his vast offensive potential. Going out on a solid outing will send Ellenson into the off-season on a positive note.
- Maybe a look at Michael Gbinije. He’s run into some rotten luck over his rookie season with timing. When Reggie Bullock was injured in December and January at a time when both Stanley Johnson and Darrun Hilliard were struggling, Gbinije might well have gotten a shot at playing time. Stan Van Gundy had praised his practice efforts, especially intrigued by his potential as a perimeter defensive stopper. But he suffered a deep right forearm bone bruise while dunking in an after-practice workout and wasn’t available for about three weeks. By the time he was healthy, Bullock was back and Johnson had regained his footing. He’d have played over the past three games, too, but illness kept him home when the Pistons traveled to Houston and Memphis. He was back in uniform for Monday’s Palace swan song and could be ready to play at Orlando.
- More exposure for Boban Marjanovic. Van Gundy said after Monday’s game that one of his off-season challenges will be to figure a defensive scheme that will allow the Pistons to play Marjanovic – and Andre Drummond, too – when the opposition uses a perimeter-shooting center. The Pistons should be able to exploit that matchup on their offensive end, but it’s a risky proposition if the downside is allowing open 3-point attempts. Marjanovic is validating Van Gundy’s belief in his scoring and rebounding prowess. Much like Ellenson, his key to a regular rotation spot will be proving versatile enough to hold up defensively against a variety of opponents.
- More time at point guard for Darrun Hillliard. Hilliard’s in a tricky spot, headed into his third season with the Pistons holding an option on his contract. As it stands, he’s behind three others at shooting guard: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson, with Gbinije – under contract for next season, though again at a team option – also in the mix. Signing Caldwell-Pope might mean the Pistons will have to let Bullock leave – they’ll both be restricted free agents, with Caldwell-Pope headed for a significant bump that will have the Pistons closing in on the NBA’s tax threshold – and that could work to Hilliard’s advantage. Showing an ability to handle another position, even if only in an emergency situation, wouldn’t hurt, either.