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2016 Detroit Pistons Preview: Henry Ellenson is enrolled in “NBA 101”

Art by Christopher Daniels

If everything goes according to Stan Van Gundy’s plan, Henry Ellenson will play less than 200 minutes for the Pistons this season. So Ellenson’s job, as a rookie, is to learn exactly what being an NBA player is like.

That means learning to give Jon Leuer hell in practice. That means familiarizing himself with the route from Royal Oak to Grand Rapids (Just take I-96 all the way down, Henry. Trust.). That means taking everyone’s Instagram photos for them. That means watching game tape, and it means learning HOW to watch game tape. It’s a process (not #TheProcess), and luckily for Henry and the Pistons, he’s got time to throw himself into it.

College and Summer League Review:

In college, as a true freshman, Ellenson put up 17 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.5 blocks, and .8 steals a game, shooting 49/28/74 from the floor for Marquette. He operated in a variety of ways offensively: Catch-and-shoot jumpers from midrange and from three, establishing good postup position inside, and being both ends of high-low passes from the mid-post.

After Marquette wasn’t selected for the NCAA Tournament, Ellenson was swiped by the Pistons at #18. His size (measured 6’11.5 in shoes with 7’2 wingspan at the combine), skill (excellent ballhandler for a player of that size), and intangibles (seems like a big goofy kid from Rice Lake, Wisconsin who just loves basketball, which could be a constructed narrative but it’s a good one) made him a player Stan Van Gundy thought would no longer be available when the Pistons were on the board.

In Orlando summer league, Ellenson showed his talent was real, but that he was also still a project, averaging 12.4 points a game shooting 31/23/74. He showed he does not have consistent NBA three-point range (23 percent from three is not good), but definitely projects as a shooter. He showed that he can create his own shot against better athletes, and draw fouls doing so (he led the Pistons Summer League team with 27 total free throw attempts). He showed he still needs to learn NBA-level team defensive concepts. He did not dominate games, nor was he asked to.

What kind of NBA player could he be? His teammate, Jon Leuer, is a good example of the kind of player Pistons fans can expect Ellenson to be in a few years; a stretch-four or small-ball five who runs the floor in transition, is lethal in pick-and-pop situations, and who can punish switches by putting the ball on the floor and driving.

However, if we want to close our eyes and dream a little, Ellenson projects to some unholy combination of LaMarcus Alderidge and Dirk Nowitzki, a big man who can operate as the hub of an entire offense. One who can shoot a near-unblockable shot from anywhere on the floor, get to the free throw line, and rebound/block shots within a defensive scheme he is a part of (as opposed to one being based around him).

2017 Projected Production:

Again, if everything goes according to plan, Ellenson shouldn’t play that much. But when he does, he needs to operate well out of pick-and-pop catch-and-shoot situations, draw fouls when driving, and move his feet on defense. Getting familiar with the speed and physicality of the NBA game will be pertinent for him.

When he’s not playing, he’s got to get himself into 82-NBA-Games shape (which is true of the vast majority of rookies), soak up defensive concepts like a sponge, and extend his range out to the NBA three. Once he sees how fast and strong the rest of the league is, he’ll know how far he has to go to be NBA-rotation-ready.

All things considered, sending Ellenson to the D-League for most of the year might be the best plan for him. He can extend the range on his jumper in practice, but it’s really best to learn team defense through repetition, and the place he can get the most reps in is the D-League. Plus, he can be in the weight room every day no matter whether he’s in Auburn Hills or Grand Rapids.


NBA: 2.5 points, 1 rebound, 0.3 assists, 0.5 blocks, and 0.2 steals per game, less than 200 minutes played.

NBA D-League: 15 points, 8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1 block, and 0.6 steals per game on 45/33/74 shooting.