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2017-18 Pistons review: Henry Ellenson should be ready to contribute...maybe?

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NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Detroit Pistons
This was seriously the least goofy facial expression of all the photo options for Ellenson this year.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

After two years in a Pistons uniform, it’d be nice to have a better sense of what the Pistons have in Henry Ellenson. He’s logged just 475 minutes over those two seasons, fewer than James Ennis III accumulated in just two months as a Piston.

It’s understandable though. Despite the injury to Jon Leuer, the Pistons really didn’t need much from Ellenson this season thanks to Anthony Tolliver’s terrific season. But it would have been nice for Ellenson to at least have gotten some time with the Grand Rapids Drive. He only played two games for the Drive, where he posted lines of 31 points and 10 rebounds and 28 points and 9 rebounds. It might have been nice to see more of that.

For the second year in a row, it wasn’t really until the season was essentially over and the Pistons shut down Blake Griffin for the final eight games that we saw much of Ellenson. And over that stretch, he looked pretty impressive. He averaged 18.5 minutes per game and posted 9.8 points and 4.1 rebounds, shooting 42 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, and 95 percent from the line.

In shorter stints Ellenson looked shaky, but it’s also tough for shooters to come in cold and make an impact in a 4-5 minute stretch. Those appearances represent the majority of Ellenson’s time on the court this season, so his overall numbers are pretty unimpressive. But there’s reason to believe that the version of Ellenson we saw later in the season is a more accurate reflection of him.

Overall, he looked like the slick, versatile, and aggressive offensive player he showed the potential of being in his limited looks last season. Only now, a bit more capable of converting.

He also flashed some potential as a passer.

There’s a lot to like about him on the offensive side of the ball if he gets a shot in the rotation. With a similar quick trigger from three as Anthony Tolliver (Tolliver averaged 10.4 three point attempts per 100 possessions, Ellenson was at 9.1), Ellenson is much putting the ball on the floor rather than being just a three point specialist. His upside is that of a more versatile version of Tolliver and also a superior rebounder.

But he’s still nowhere close on the defensive end.

He wasn’t a complete disaster defensively, even posting a pretty solid defensive rating of 98.5 compared to the team’s overall defensive rating of 104.8. He mostly seemed to be in the right place and was a willing defender. But looking back at games where Tolliver’s ability to battle against the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin were game changers for the Pistons. Savvy opposing power forwards will likely still have their way with him.

Perhaps my favorite Henry Ellenson statistic is that he’s only recorded one block so far in his career. That’s pretty remarkable.

In fact since the league has actually started recording the statistic, no other player listed at 6’11 or taller has managed to record so few blocks over the same amount of minutes. The next fewest block total is Mengke Bateer with five. A full five times as many blocked shots as Ellenson.

So who is the poor sap who owns the ignominy of being blocked by Ellenson?

Oh Trevor Ariza. For shame. Pump-faking to blow the wide open dunk? For shame. And the Pistons actually went on to win from there, finishing up a double digit fourth quarter comeback. So Ellenson’s only career block was actually pretty clutch.

Entering year three, it’s time for Ellenson to finally be ready to be a contributor. Jon Leuer is a major question mark coming off of an ankle surgery, but this offseason shouldn’t require investing too much in additional reinforcements for the backup minutes behind Griffin.

It’s sink or swim time for Ellenson. And if the coaching staff and front office can’t trust him to swim by now, well, what’s the point in holding on to him?