Chat with Casey about his future ‘music to my ears’ for Henry Ellenson
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty)
LAS VEGAS – If you’re making the case that the most important addition the Pistons made to their roster this summer was somebody hiding in plain sight the past two years, Luke Kennard has some ammunition for your consideration.
“I don’t know what he can’t do,” Kennard said as he rattled off the latent abilities of teammate Henry Ellenson. “He can handle the ball. He can bring the ball up the court. He makes plays, pass, finish at the rim – he’s an all-around great player. I think he’s another guy that Coach is wanting to develop and he’s going to get better – and he’s going to help us, for sure.”
Ellenson played in a handful of games early in his second season as a part of Stan Van Gundy’s rotation, then slid into the background as Anthony Tolliver assumed his spot with steady defense and .436 3-point shooting. With Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond assured of major roles and Jon Leuer returning from injury, there’s no guarantee Ellenson will nail down a significant role even with Tolliver departing in free agency, but it sure sounds like he’ll get every opportunity.
Both newly hired coach Dwane Casey and Ed Stefanski, who quarterbacked the draft and the opening of free agency for the Pistons, mentioned Ellenson with Luke Kennard as Stanley Johnson as young players with untapped potential two weeks ago as Casey was introduced. Those mentions did not go unnoticed by the most famous denizen of Rice Lake, Wis.
“To be able to hear that, especially not getting as much time as I wanted these past two years and to get mentioned to be able to help the team going forward, I feel like I could have always done that,” Ellenson said. “To hear from them, that’s huge, because that’s the decision makers as to who’s going to be on the court. I’ve been working hard this summer on my game, on my body, just getting stronger and better. I just want to be ready to go for the season, show people what they’ve been missing out.”
Ellenson’s body has changed noticeably since coming to the Pistons two summers ago and he’s spent the nearly three months since the season ended continuing to add strength.
“Legs and core. I feel a lot stronger,” Ellenson said. “Continue to keep pushing with that and then upper-body strength. I’ve kept adding weights and kept going from there. I’ve been focused on that since May. It’s already halfway through summer and I’m going to keep continuing with that.”
Ellenson got a taste of how Casey’s offense will differ from Van Gundy’s in the first Summer League practices on Monday, run by new assistant coaches Sidney Lowe and Sean Sweeney with player development coach D.J. Bakker.
“It’s different,” he said. “So far, it’s just been spacing, shooting, drives – just different from what we did before. I’m excited about it. It seems like it’s free flowing. Guys are going to shoot it with confidence and just be ready to go.”
Casey gave Ellenson an idea of how he fits into that, too, as they spoke by phone shortly after Casey was hired.
“Use my versatility. Get it off the rim and go,” he said. “That’s one thing this week at Summer League I think people will see when we’re playing. If I’m going to get a rebound, I’m going to take it up. That’s one thing that helps me get my rhythm. I think it will just help the team be able to attack, play at a pace. Do what I do, shoot when open and drive closeouts. When they say stuff like that, it’s music to my ears. I’m excited about it. This week at Summer League is going to be huge to build a bond with the four guys we’ve got on the roster and just go from there.”
After spending the early part of his off-season in Rice Lake, where he hosted his basketball camp for a second straight year, Ellenson last week joined Kennard and Stanley Johnson working out in Southern California. He plans to go back to spend the bulk of his off-season workouts there, too.
“It’s important for me to work with the coaches and get with the guys,” he said. “Going into year three, that will be huge for me – just be ready to go for training camp.”
Ellenson saw how Casey liberally sprinkled young big men into significant roles in Toronto, players like Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Lucas Nogueira. His expectation is that he’ll leave Summer League having made a strong impression and go into training camp to convince Casey that it would be a mistake to exclude him from a similar role.
“I’ve only heard great things about him,” he said. “I’m excited to get to work with him and get ready to go for the season.”