The Pistons need patience with Henry Ellenson

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Henry Ellenson (Marquette) walks to the stage after being selected as the number eighteen overall pick to the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Henry Ellenson (Marquette) walks to the stage after being selected as the number eighteen overall pick to the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Detroit Pistons selected Henry Ellenson out of Marquette with the 18th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, it made perfect sense. After all, Ellenson’s style of play mimics a player type that Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy loves. Ellenson has an excellent frame, a good shooting stroke, and is a solid rebounder — all things that should make him a strong fit as a Van Gundy-style stretch four. In fact, getting Ellenson at 18 could be considered a steal for Detroit, as he spent much of the pre-draft process being considered a late lottery pick.

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In theory, Ellenson can slide in next to Andre Drummond as a stretch four in the long term. However, Ellenson

is much more theory than substance

at this point. Despite a lofty recruiting ranking and plenty of physical tools, the versatile forward struggled to fully capitalize on his potential in his lone year at Marquette. He proved to be a very solid rebounder, posting a 24.2 percent defensive rebound rate, and he showed potential as a shot-blocker (1.8 blocks/40 minutes). However, his highly touted shooting never materialized in college. Ellenson shot just 44.6 percent from the field, 28.8 percent from three, and 74.9 percent from the line, struggling with consistency despite decent technique. Even more problematic was his defense, as he struggled throughout the year

with positioning and awareness.

These problems were apparent at Orlando Summer League, as well. Ellenson scored 12.4 points per game in five contests for Detroit, but shot just 31 percent from the field, and 23.1 percent from three. Defensively, he struggled in space with athletic forwards, most notably against Georges Niang in the Pistons’ narrow win over the Pacers.

If you go by the eye test, you can see the potential for Ellenson as an offensive player. In the game against the Knicks, Ellenson provided a display of what should become a versatile scoring skill set, scoring 12 points on 4-13 shooting:

What stands out immediately with Ellenson is his shooting form being quick, efficient, and consistent. This has been a constant theme for Ellenson throughout the last year — his shots may not go in, but they look good coming out of his hands, and that should translate to more shots going in as he continues to develop consistency. Not many sub-30 percent shooters have the form that Ellenson does, which may explain his poor shooting last season as an anomaly.

Additionally, Ellenson showed a decent first step attacking off the dribble, and his post game showed some development. The Pistons want Ellenson to be more than just a spot-up shooter, and if he continues to be able to get to the line and bend the defense from the post, those could be simple ways for him to get on the court, even if his shot isn’t falling.

If Ellenson can progress as a shooter, the fit in Detroit for him should be pretty obvious. Theoretically, Ellenson will spot up around the Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop with Jackson, and on bench units he will be able to wear down opponents from the post or elbow. Drummond will help cover up for any major defensive issues Ellenson has, and he’ll continue to develop as a shot-blocker and defender in space, even if his ceiling doesn’t end up being that high.

This all sounds nice, but that requires Ellenson’s shot to become more consistent, and he needs significant work to reach the point where he’s a competent defender. To expect Ellenson to fill this role right away is unreasonable, and it might be 2-3 years before Ellenson is getting regular playing time. This year is about development for Ellenson and the Pistons, and we might not see much of the prized rookie as the Pistons attempt to push for a high playoff seed.

This development should be successful, given the infrastructure the Pistons have in place for Ellenson. Van Gundy is a solid development coach, and his work with Ryan Anderson previously gives a blueprint for Ellenson’s trajectory. The Pistons also do not need Ellenson right away, as they have Tobias Harris to play a majority of minutes at the four, and Jon Leuer was brought in from Phoenix to supply additional depth at power forward. This should allow Ellenson to get spot minutes in the NBA, or spend some time in the D-League with the Grand Rapids Drive, in order to focus more on improving his game.

Henry Ellenson has a high ceiling, given his elite rebounding ability and what his shooting could become. However, his early career has been a struggle with consistency and fundamentals. In this way, Detroit was the perfect landing spot for him. The Pistons appear to want to play the long game with him, and they have the roster and coaching staff to both bring him along slowly and to capitalize on whatever Ellenson becomes.

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