POP Season Preview: Michael Gbinije Will Struggle to Find Minutes in His Rookie Season

Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Michael Gbinije and Henry Ellenson are the two new rookies on the Pistons, but neither of them will have a major role with them next year. Image: Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

The Detroit Pistons entered the 2016 NBA Draft with two glaring needs. They needed a power forward who could backup Tobias Harris. They needed a power forward that was a bigger build forward who could defend centers or bigger power forwards. With their first round pick, the 18th pick in the draft, they selected Henry Ellenson out of Marquette. He is a 6’10 power forward who has the height but needs to add some bulk to be a forward who could defend a center. Detroit was able to address a need that they later bolstered in free agency by signed Jon Leuer, by drafting Ellenson. That led to them needing to address their second need heading into free agency. They needed to draft a point guard to back up Reggie Jackson. Steve Blake, who was the backup point guard last year, was heading into free agency at the time. Detroit traded Spencer Dinwiddie to the Chicago Bulls a week before the draft. That left Lorenzo Brown as the only point guard on the roster prior to the draft. With their second round pick they selected Syracuse wing Michael Gbinije.

Gbinije is a four-year player who spent three seasons at Syracuse after transferring his freshman year from Duke. Gbinije is a 6’7 combo wing who Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy hopes can become a point guard as well. Gbinije spent some time at point guard at Syracuse, but mainly was a shooting guard and small forward with other guards such as Trevor Cooney and Malachi Richardson absorbing minutes at point guard as well. Nonetheless Gbinije has exceptional ball handling skills and playmaking ability for a 6’7 wing. That lead to Van Gundy drafting him over other true points guards available when Detroit was on the board in the second round such as Yogi Ferrell, Marcus Paige, and Kay Felder. While Van Gundy on that night may have deserved some criticism for not drafting a true point guard, he quickly reconciled for his mistake when the Pistons agreed to a free agent deal with point guard Ish Smith.

Gbinije was a solid player at Syracuse. His senior year was crucial to the Orange’s Final Four run, where they ultimately fell to North Carolina. A successful senior year at Syracuse made it possible for Gbinije to be drafted. He averaged 17.5 points, 4.3 assists, and 4.1 assists per game last year. He shot a substantial 39.2% from behind the three-point line but struggled from the free throw line, only knocking down 66.3% of his free throws last season. Gbinije is a very good shooter, he shot 52.3% from inside the arc, but for some reason he struggled to be a successful free throw shooter. His shooting makes Gbinije an intriguing option on offense. He has solid attributes to be successful on offense, with his playmaking ability, shooting touch, and point guard potential. His defense is already a solid aspect of his game. Last year he led the ACC in steals per game, averaging 1.9 per game. He also lead the ACC in total steals over the season, at 70. He has the length and puts forth the effort to be a successful defender. A lot of aspects in Gbinije’s game is solid, but that does not mean he will crack the rotation.


Gbinije never really got a chance to showcase what his skills were after being drafted by the Pistons. Gbinije had a promising game in his only Summer League game of the summer. His overall performance was great, as he posted 10 points, seven rebounds, and five assists in 33 minutes against the New York Knicks. Unfortunately for Gbinije and the Pistons, he rolled his ankle prior to Detroit’s second Summer League game. He missed the rest of the tournament.

Detroit is loaded with proven and promising wings already ahead of Gbinije in the depth chart. Marcus Morris and Stanley Johnson will man the small forward spot, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Reggie Bullock, and Darrun Hilliard ahead of him at shooting guard at the depth chart. Gbinije didn’t get the chance to show he could play point guard, which lead to Detroit signing point guards Ray McCallum Jr and Trey Freeman to try to battle for a roster spot, and of course Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith are the top two point guards in Detroit’s rotation. There are going to be little to no minutes for Gbinije on a game by game basis. The depth in the backcourt on Detroit’s roster is good except for Gbinije. There is a good chance that he spends a chunk of time in the NBA D-League next season, a place where he can get reps at point guard, shooting guard, and small forward.

While Detroit will not have much use for Gbinije this season, there is likely a future for him in Detroit. The Pistons lack many quality ball handlers behind Reggie Jackson, and Gbinije can be a complete mary piece next to Jackson at times throughout the future and even in the upcoming season. Stan Van Gundy spoke on how he wanted to acquire another ball handler that could play next to Jackson. While Gbinije may not get that opportunity to do so next year, that could be his future as a Piston.

Spending most of next season in the D-League will be better for Gbinije than sitting on the Pistons bench all year. He will get reps at any position he wants, including point guard. Getting reps at point guard will be good for Gbinije as reps there will provide him with the experience of playing against other point guards. The D-League will give Gbinije a chance to play, unlike the Pistons roster that is already figured out.

Featured image via: Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images