Ellenson gets Pistons off and running as they net first Summer League win

Henry Ellenson got the Pistons off to a hot start as they built a 25-point lead to coast to a Summer League win over New Orleans.
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by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

LAS VEGAS – The new Pistons coaching staff knows Henry Ellenson can shoot. They’re interested in pushing the boundaries of the other things they believe he can do that separates his skill set from that of most big men.

Like grabbing defensive rebounds and pushing it himself in transition. Or facilitating the half-court offense as, in effect, a point center.

“The coaches have been giving me confidence after every game,” he said after Monday’s 105-97 win over New Orleans, a game in which the Pistons hit 18 of their first 22 shots over the first 15 minutes and led by 25 before. “They talk to me about different plays, bringing it up. They draw up plays for me to bring it up. They trusted me to make decisions and it’s been great. Tell me to try stuff, too, some things you haven’t done for a while, so try to take over a game, try to help with attack, get to the rim.”

While Ellenson has made big gains in the weight room in the two years since he was drafted as a 19-year-old after his freshman season at Marquette and put in thousands of hours on skill work, he admits feeling the effect of long bouts of not participating in games.

Between that and being asked to fill a broader role on offense, Ellenson – though productive in his first two games, averaging 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds – had little success finding the bottom of the net. He shot 9 of 35 overall and 2 of 19 from the 3-point arc.

“Just continuing to get back in that rhythm of playing because it’s been a while,” he said. “Get to the way I know how to play.”

Ellenson got the Pistons rolling to a 33-22 lead after one quarter with nine points, four rebounds and two assists. He finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and two steals. Three times in the quarter, he went coast to coast himself, producing two baskets – one on a tough left-handed finish over New Orleans big man Cliff Alexander – and two free throws.

Even at that, Ellenson’s 3-point struggles continued as he missed his last four after making his first attempt, though two of his misses were end-of-shot-clock, contested attempts. He hit 5 of 12 shots overall, though – again – how Ellenson shoots in Summer League is the least of the team’s concerns.

“I thought he did a really good job,” Pistons assistant Sean Sweeney, in charge of the Summer League team, said. “The scoreboard would indicate how sharp we were in a lot of areas, but he does a good job of reading the defense, making a play to the second side of the floor for himself or for his teammates.”

Two of those teammates, rookies Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown, continued to impress. Both scored 12 points, Thomas on just five shots, Brown on just six. Thomas hit his only triple, Brown was a perfect 8 of 8 at the foul line as he again attacked the rim off the dribble. Each had just one turnover and both continued to play consistently hard and well on defense.

“Those guys have done a good job, one bringing the effort and the energy every day, two trying to understand the schemes and the system and then three, I think they like the challenge,” Sweeney said. “Defense sometimes is about putting my butt on the line and trying to compete as hard as I can. The challenge, the one-on-one part as well as the team part, I think those guys have that in them.”

“Khyri and Bruce have been great on both ends of the ball,” Ellenson said. “They’re both showing they can really guard and put it in the basket, too. None of them seem rushed. They’re very poised with the way they’ve been playing and it’s been impressive.”

The Pistons, now 1-2 in Summer League, will have to wait to see when they play next until all teams have played three games and seeding for the playoffs is set after Tuesday’s games.