clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Despite shaky Summer League, Henry Ellenson should get a shot at backup power forward

Don’t write off the third year player too soon.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Miami Heat
That left hand tho...
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Many of Henry Ellenson’s worst traits were on display during the Pistons Summer League. Clanked too many shots, porous defense, looking rather lost. But those worst traits aren’t all there is to Ellenson.

We always tell ourselves before the Summer League that we aren’t going to overreact to performances. Yet every year, folks fall for it.

Bruce Brown is now Russell Westbrook. Khyri Thomas is FGOTB (for DBBers who go back to the Kim English days, that’s first guard off the bench). And Henry Ellenson is a bust.

Let’s be clear. Bruce Brown isn’t Russell Westbrook. Khyri isn’t going to be FGOTB. And Ellenson isn’t a bust. Or at least, the Summer League doesn’t at all factor into whether Ellenson is going to be a bust.

We learned pretty much one thing about Ellenson from the Summer League: he shouldn’t be the Pistons’ number one option on offense going into the season. He averaged 15.7 points per game, leading the team, but shot just 30 percent from the field. So if your plans were for him to be that, sorry that they were thwarted.

The Summer League isn’t an indictment that Ellenson has either progressed or regressed. The best information we’ve gotten on Ellenson as a player came from last season, and that information was just reinforced with the Summer League.

The Good


Look at this:

That’s pretty cool.

You don’t expect it by looking at him. He’s kinda doughy. He’s from Wisconsin. But Ellenson is pretty fast!

And he also brings solid handles that makes his speed translate well with the ball in his hand.

At this point, he’s rather unassuming attacking the rim. We’ll talk a lot more about this later on, but he’s able to generate some really nice results when he does.

This is what really separates him from just a pick-and-pop stretch four prospect, that he’s able to bring the extra dynamic of putting the ball on the floor and attacking an overly aggressive closeout.

It’s something that Anthony Tolliver added to his game this past season to make himself the most valuable player coming off the team’s bench.


Every team needs pick and pop guys. Ones who are aggressive launching from deep and can be at least reasonably successful. Ellenson certainly has a quick trigger and has shown signs of being able to be solid from deep.

Three point percentages are notional for guys who are shooters but don’t have defined roles. Ellenson shot 38 percent from three when he got on the floor for more than 10 minutes last season. 18 percent for fewer than 10.

And no, this isn’t a situation where he misses a few and gets pulled. In 11 of those 24 appearances with fewer than 10 minutes, Ellenson didn’t even take a three pointer. Almost all of them were junk time minutes in blowouts. Not exactly conducive for seeing what a shooter is capable of.

Ellenson is still just a 31 percent career three point shooter in the NBA. He’s only shot 33 percent in the G-League, 28 percent at Marquette. It’s not like he’s been some shoot-the-lights-out guy.

But he brings all the traits. He puts himself in a good position, has a quick release, has a short memory. He just needs to, you know, make them and stuff.

In the past, there may have been some mechanical stuff. I think it was Laz Jackson who first pointed out Ellenson’s at times funky delivery. Well, we can even see it in the photo at the top of this post.

Um, what’s with that left hand?

It’s tough to tell how prevalent of a thing that crazy motion was since there’s only so much video that gives that good of an angle. But his left hand did seem to have a tendency to make an odd caress for the ball rather than doing what it was supposed to do.

That...doesn’t seem normal.

As Laz and Ryan Pravato talked about in the DBB podcast, Ellenson’s hand placement seemed more orthodox during the Summer League. So some mechanical changes may offer some hope for upside.

But beyond just Ellenson’s three point shooting, he’s really been bringing it from the free throw stripe, shooting 86 percent from the line last year. The Pistons are one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the league every year, so any improvement the Pistons can make on that front is welcome. He still needs to get to the line at a higher rate, but we’ll get to that.

The stuff he needs to improve


Yeah, it’s bad.

Physically, it’s not terrible. He moves better than you’d expect him too. Though he definitely gets pushed around. There are times when he’s definitely just absolutely physically overmatched.

But the majority of his problems are on the mental side of things.

A lot of that stuff has to do with experience. Not that it’s the highest endorsement, but many of those times Ellenson was overmatched physically, so was Jon Leuer.

That’s not to say that all of his problems on defense can be fixed. But a lot of what happens on defense are equal parts physical, awareness, and effort. Ellenson’s problems are all the prior two. If he can just bring the latter two, he can be ok.

Shot Selection

Ellenson has this sweet shot he can make. Puts the ball on the floor, stops, fall away jumper, swish.

Well, sometimes.

It looks nice and he can get the shot at will. But it’s not a particularly high percentage shot.

It may be an effect from the Stan Van Gundy shot selection dilemma. Hopefully. But Ellenson had a tendency to lean too heavily on his jumper.

Often times he’d be better off attacking the rim and trying to finish through contact or drawing a foul rather than taking the midrange shot. While there’s times he tossed up a goofy finish, he really was pretty good attacking the rim.

And it’d also help his next most important issue: getting to the line.

Last season he took 58 shots from the restricted area to the three point line, which represented 40 percent of his overall shots for the season. That’s wild. Even wilder: he only made 24 percent of them.

Ellenson knows how to put the ball on the ground and attack the rim when he gets his defender off balance. But he’s not incredibly physical when he does it. It’s pretty much just when he gets a straight line to the hoop.

These were too rare last year. He needs to be more willing to play strong and bully ball his way to the hoop, finishing through contact. It’ll mean higher percentage shots and more trips to the line.

Moving Forward

Henry Ellenson remains a 21 year old prospect who posted 17 and 10 as a freshman in college.

Folks are always free to their own opinions. Don’t trust Ellenson as a prospect, no worries. But if you’re going to call for the Pistons to move on from him, you can kiss your right to complain about missing out on Khris Middleton or Spencer Dinwiddie goodbye.

But the fact is that there’s enough that Ellenson has shown to suggest that he’s one of the team’s most viable prospect. Stanley Johnson remains one of the lowest true shooting percentage guys in the league, and not in a charming Marcus Smart sort of way (though maybe). The second round picks are second round picks for a reason. Kennard looks more promising after his rookie year, but Ellenson is still a bit younger.

So it becomes a personal values thing. Do you believe in developing young players over just going with veterans, something Stan Van Gundy was quite criticized for? Then you ought to be in favor of Ellenson getting a good shot for the rotation. If that’s not your jam, that’s fine, Jon Leuer will be just fine. Maybe.

The wildcard is Stanley Johnson as a smallball four. Honestly, Johnson hasn’t shown enough through his first three seasons to indicate that he is at all better than Ellenson, despite having much more opportunity. But the possibility is intriguing.

Either way, Summer League really shouldn’t change any of these decisions. Ellenson remains a raw player with the type of tools a team needs. He’s a mobile stretch big who will probably eventually find a way to be useful in the league.

Will that be with the Pistons? We’ll see.