Because they played last night in Toronto, the Wolves didn’t hold a morning shoot today. But tonight's opponent, Detroit, did. And the Pistons brought a couple of compelling locally-based stories with them to Target Center.
The first is forward Jon Leuer, the former Orono and University of Wisconsin star whose career has gone to another level since signing a four-year $42 million deal with Pistons during the off-season.
Getting consistent minutes from the start – something he didn’t always get while playing for four NBA teams in his first five seasons – he having a career year. He is averaging 26.6 minutes, 10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists, all career highs.
“I knew it was going to be a good system for me, that there would be a god opportunity for me to play,” he said. “But nothing is guaranteed. You have to come in and prove yourself and earn minutes in any new situation. That’s what my mindset was, that’s what I came here to do.’’
The opportunity was definitely there. Pistons president of basketball operations and coach Stan Van Gundy had Leuer on his radar for a while. “He’s a guy that, since his rookie year, I’ve really liked,’’ Van Gundy said. “I just think he’s 6-10, 6-11, with very good athleticism. He can put the ball on the floor and play off the dribble. He’s expanded his range. And he can move his feet defensively.’’
Drafted by Milwaukee in the second round of the 2011 draft (40th overall), Leuer has played for the Bucks, Memphis, Cleveland and Phoenix. Given the circumstances, according to Van Gundy, it was sometimes difficult for him to get regular playing time. He was in Memphis when Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were younger. He played behind Markieff Morris and Tyson Chandler in Phoenix. “It was tough for him to get consistent minutes,” Van Gundy said. “We felt if he got minutes every night he could be really productive. And I still think there is a lot more there that hasn’t’ been tapped yet.’’
While they are different players, Leuer and the Wolves’ Cole Aldrich have similar stories. Both played for a number of teams early in their career before signing a long-term deal. Both paid some Development League dues. Both appear to be in the right place now.
The two are friends. The two played against each other in high school when Leuer’s Orono team would play Aldrich, who was at Bloomington Jefferson. They played together in AAU ball for the Minnesota Magic. The two work out together during the off-season. “We have a lot of respect for each other,’’ Leuer said.
Leuer will have a bunch of friends and family at the game. But probably not as many as will come from Rice Lake, Wisconsin to watch Henry Ellenson play.
Ellenson, in his rookie year out of Marquette – he was taken by the Pistons with the 18th pick in the draft – said this morning that between 150 and 200 folks would make the trip from Rice Lake to see the game. Plus, apparently, the entire Rice Lake High School band, which will play.
For Ellenson, his first season has been a learning experience. The 6-11 forward has appeared in just five games. He has already had one D-League stint, and could have more.
But Van Gundy said he expects big things from Ellenson down the road. “He has to work at getting stronger,” Van Gundy said. “And at getting better at the defensive end of the floor. Those are the two things. And he has already been making improvements in both areas. We’ll try to get him some playing time down in the D League. We’re tremendously excited about his future. When he fills out and gets stronger, I think he’ll be a hell of a player in this league.’’