Pistons see great value in Ellenson, a player SVG says was 10th on their board

Henry Ellenson’s production as a Marquette freshman caught the eye of Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons.
Elsa (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

A draft with about twice as many twists and turns as the typical zaniness resulted in the Pistons landing a player rated much higher than the 18th pick, Henry Ellenson. The 7-footer, a freshman from Marquette University, was projected to go in the top 10 as recently as a month ago but slid out of the lottery altogether as a number of surprise picks dotted the draft.

“He was 10th on our board,” Stan Van Gundy said. “That’s exactly where he fit in with us. … We’re really excited. It just unfolded a lot differently than we thought it would.”

Ellenson, a 5-star recruit out of Rice Lake, Wis., averaged 17.0 points and 9.7 rebounds while playing 34 minutes a game for the Eagles. He took about three 3-point shots a game, hitting 29 percent, but Pistons scouts expect Ellenson will develop 3-point range as he adapts to his anticipated NBA role.

“If you look at his stroke, it’s a really nice looking stroke,” Van Gundy said. “We think with time – he’ll shoot the mid-range jumper right now – and I do think eventually he’ll expand out and be able to make the NBA three. I think he will be able to stretch the floor. We’re happy about that, too.”

In many respects, Ellenson fills the role the Pistons had envisioned for Donatas Motiejunas – sending the pick they ultimately used to pick Ellenson – when they traded for him from the Houston Rockets at the February trade deadline before rescinding the deal over concerns for the status of Motiejunas’ back.

Though the Pistons are still certain to sign or trade for a power forward to complement Tobias Harris, Ellenson projects to be both a power forward and a face-up center. The Pistons haven’t had that type of player, limiting their options against the growing number of teams that play with five perimeter shooters on the floor.

Van Gundy backed off his comments from earlier in the week when he said he didn’t expect the No. 18 pick to provide any first-year help.

“It’s possible (Ellenson could crack the rotation),” he said. “He’s a guy that has a chance to get on the floor. Is he a guy in your top eight? I don’t know. It’s too early. We’ll start the process with him and see where it goes. He’s good enough to maybe get on the floor, but we’re in a position that he doesn’t have to. We don’t have to rush it. We just want him to work every day to get better. No pressure on him early.”

Van Gundy said Ellenson was one of 11 players his staff informed him had no chance to drop to 18th, so he only watched two of Marquette’s games. He loved what he saw, but didn’t spend any time pondering the possibilities. But general manager Jeff Bower and assistant GM Brian Wright thought highly of Ellenson and made it an easy call for Van Gundy.

“Jeff Bower, Brian Wright, all the scouts loved him. He was a guy that we just didn’t think we had any shot at,” Van Gundy said. “Everybody thought he was going to go higher. We need to get a little bigger up front, particularly at the four. So to get him … and we think he can play the four and the five. Really knows how to play basketball, great instincts, can handle the ball for a big, really faces up, shoots it, puts it on the floor, can pass the ball, tough guy, rebounds it. So he gives us a lot of things to work with.”

Among the surprises ahead of the Pistons, Milwaukee selected Thon Maker at No. 10, Atlanta picked Taurean Prince at No. 12, Sacramento grabbed Georgios Papagiannis at No. 13 and Boston selected Gerschon Yabusele at No. 16. Van Gundy said that within the first 12 or 13 picks, two players ranked in the 30s on the Pistons’ board had been taken.

Also available when the Pistons picked Ellenson were Michigan State freshman Deyonta Davis and Kentucky freshman Skal Labissiere, two others who project to have the ability to play both power forward and center and – like Ellenson – were considered very likely to be taken in the lottery. But neither had anywhere close to Ellenson’s freshman production.

Ellenson was in the NBA draft green room in New York, shook hands with commissioner Adam Silver and pulled on a blue Pistons hat after his selection.

“I think I can fit in and be a stretch four for them,” Ellenson told reporters in New York. “I think Andre Drummond down low is really effective and I play with centers. So I think I can be a guy who adds a whole ’nuther side of versatility there, being able to make plays in the four spot.”