2018-19 Pistons Profile: Henry Ellenson

After failing to make the playoffs last season, Pistons owner Tom Gores made the call to change course. Ed Stefanski was hired to run the front office and his first big move was to hire Dwane Casey, reigning NBA Coach of the Year. The roster is set, a new coaching staff and front office is in place and training camp is around the corner. In the days leading up to its opening we’ll look at each player on the roster and assess how he fits into the puzzle for the 2018-19 season. Today: Henry Ellenson. Thursday: Jon Leuer.


ID card: 21 years old, entering 3rd season, 6-foot-11, power forward/center

Last year in review: After a strong training camp and preseason, Ellenson got the call off the bench on opening night over Anthony Tolliver– made inactive for that game – and produced 13 points and four rebounds in a win over Charlotte. He didn’t play the next game, ostensibly for matchup reasons, and received another DNP-CD two games later after a four-minute stint went poorly in New York in Game 3. Ellenson responded with 14 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes of a win over Minnesota, but fell out of the rotation after playing 12 and nine minutes in two of the next three games as Tolliver, playing the best basketball of his career, solidified his spot as primary backup at power forward. Ellenson didn’t rejoin the rotation until the Pistons were effectively out of the playoff race and Blake Griffin sat out the final eight games with an ankle contusion. In 38 games, he averaged 4.0 points and 2.1 rebounds while shooting 36 percent overall and 33 percent from the 3-point arc.

Career at a glance: Ellenson spent one season at Marquette in his native Wisconsin, averaging 17.0 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game in the Big East. He declared for the NBA draft, which surprised no one, and was widely anticipated to be a lottery pick. Stan Van Gundy would later say the Pistons had him rated as the No. 10 prospect in that draft, so it was an easy call to take him with the 18th pick – even though Van Gundy strongly believed Ellenson wouldn’t be ready to contribute in his first season. He quickly touted his offensive potential and future niche, though, after seeing Ellenson’s natural scoring ability in his rookie training camp and declared Ellenson ready to play entering his second season. But Ellenson was stuck behind Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer to start the season and was bypassed by Tolliver, whose superior 3-point shooting and defensive ability proved irresistible qualities and more apt fits for the roster.

Anticipated role: With Tolliver departed in free agency and Leuer coming off of early-August surgery to repair cartilage damage in his right knee, Ellenson will get every opportunity to impress Dwane Casey and the new coaching staff in training camp. Ed Stefanski, hired as senior adviser to Pistons owner Tom Gores in May and in charge of basketball operations, expressed the necessity for Ellenson to get as much exposure to five-on-five basketball over the summer as possible. Toward that end, Ellenson’s participation this month with USA Basketball as it builds its roster to compete in World Cup qualifying events will be helpful. Ellenson was caught between a rock and a hard place last season when Leuer’s ankle injury knocked him out of the lineup, all but eliminating the option of allowing Ellenson developmental time in the G League – he was needed on the bench in case of foul trouble or injury.

It will be a good season if... : Ellenson earns and keeps a spot in Casey’s rotation. Casey’s history in Toronto of rolling with young players and living with their growing pains should be the most encouraging bit of news Ellenson has gotten in his brief NBA career. Casey used Pascal Siakam for 35 starts as a rookie after Toronto drafted him 27th in 2016 and stuck with rookie O.G. Anunoby as his starting small forward last season. Ellenson altered his shot form over the summer to poor results in Summer League, but he’ll have had nearly three full months since then to streamline mechanics and develop muscle memory before the season launches. Continuing to develop core and lower-body strength to become a more agile defender – especially in an era when big men who can’t defend at the 3-point line are increasingly seen as liabilities – also will be critical to Ellenson’s future. Casey can craft a rotation without him by using Leuer as his primary backup to Blake Griffin and making use of Stanley Johnson or Glenn Robinson III there when teams downsize. But Ellenson’s unique skill set – his ballhandling and ability to create shots off the dribble at his size – make him an intriguing prospect for mismatch possibilities he’ll create. He’s got the tools to be a dynamic stretch big and he’s a confident shooter; now the results have to fall in place.