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How Henry Ellenson’s Versatility Translates to the NBA

12 December 2015: Marquette Golden Eagles forward Henry Ellenson (13) backs Wisconsin Badger forward Ethan Happ (22) down to the basket as the Marquette Golden Eagles take on the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center in Madison, WI. (Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire)

While it’s too early to pinpoint the exact pecking order of the 2016 NBA Draft, the elite tier of prospects is starting to separate itself from the rest of the pack. Marquette’s Henry Ellenson has entrenched himself in that upper shelf.

The 6’10” freshman may not challenge for the No. 1 overall spot, but the odds are good that he’ll land early in the lottery. Through 11 games, he’s showcased a fluid, multidimensional skill set along with robust rebounding production.

Ellenson’s playing style and tangible potential seem well-suited for the Association, and his polish will quickly translate to offensive versatility. What should coaches and executives expect from him in the short and long term?

Short Term (Rookie & Sophomore Years)

Ellenson’s most attractive attribute right now is his combination of size and scoring touch. He can rise up and connect from almost any spot on the floor, thanks to a 6’10” frame, smooth footwork and mechanics.

He’s not yet efficient from three-point range, hitting just 27 percent of his triple-tries thus far. However, Ellenson’s shooting stroke pass the eye test convincingly, and he’s drilling mid-range jumpers at will. According to hoop-math.com, he’s converted 51 percent of all his two-point jumpers.

Shotanalytics.com‘s chart shows that his sweet spots are from the mid-post and top of the key:

HellensonChartDec21

From day one, his NBA coach will be able to utilize him during pick-and-pops, spot-up shots and flare screens. But the huge bonus about Ellenson’s offensive game is his ability to put the ball on the deck.

While his handle isn’t advanced enough to create in every situation, he’s more than comfortable attacking closeouts, slashing to the rim and pushing the rock in transition. His confidence and aggression off the bounce has earned him consistent trips to the charity stripe, including eight free throws against Chicago State Monday.

Here’s a glimpse of Ellenson’s command of the rock. He grabbed the rebound and loped coast-to-coast against Wisconsin, taking advantage of the Badgers’ hesitation and finishing with his off hand. Not bad for a 6’10” teenager.

During his first couple of pro seasons, Ellenson’s low-post effectiveness may be inconsistent like it is today. The footwork is certainly there, but the assertiveness and timely maneuvers come and go. He tends to play at the high post or float to the perimeter.

Ellenson doesn’t have outstanding court vision or an elite feel for the game, but he’s done a good job making the right plays in coach Steve Wojciechowski’s offense. He’s averaging 3.4 assists per 40 minutes thus far, and it looks like he’ll have the alertness to execute smoothly in most NBA sets.

You can count on Ellenson to crash the glass early in his career as well. If his exploits at Marquette are any indication, rebounding will be one of his strongest suits. He’s currently hauling in 11.7 boards per 40 minutes, using his 245-pound frame and 7’1.5″ wingspan to clean up the caroms for the Golden Eagles.

Defense will be his shakiest department. Ellenson hasn’t been an awful stopper against collegiate competition, but we haven’t seen the kind of instincts and explosiveness required to consistently guard NBA forwards. He doesn’t have the quick burst to react as an on-ball or off-ball defender, so he’ll need to employ perfect positioning and length—a tall task for an NBA rookie. Jonathan Tjarks of The Cauldron explained the youngster’s quandary:

What has to be a real concern when it comes to projecting Ellenson to the next level is how he’s going to deal with teams going small against him at power forward. How is he going to be able to defend players like Draymond Green who are faster than he is and who can shoot, pass and dribble? While he has the size to play some as a small-ball center, he doesn’t appear to have the block rate or the athleticism to manage that full-time.

Ellenson’s early-career stats depend heavily on where he lands. Assuming he’s on a mid-lottery team, he’ll likely be the third or fourth scoring option in the lineup and serve as one of the team’s best rebounders. If he gets 20-25 minutes per game, he’ll score 11-13 points and collect 6-8 rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field. A larger role could push him into the Rookie of the Year race.

In the long term, things get much more exciting.

Long Term (Third Year and Beyond)

Given how gifted Ellenson already is, his ceiling three or four years from now is enormous. Again, much of his success hinges on his team and how he’s implemented, but the tools and budding skills are in place.

By the time he’s a third or fourth-year pro, Ellenson should be stretching opposing defenses and drilling three-pointers at a 35-38 percent rate. Meanwhile, his back-to-the-basket strength and polish could expand to the point where his team can run a huge chunk of their offense through him in the post.

Factor in his rebounding and promising passing skills, and you’ve got an ultra-versatile weapon. Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report views Ellenson in the mold of a Kevin Love/Julius Randle blend.

His presence under the boards, as well as his post game and shooting touch, have already begun fueling comparisons to Kevin Love…But like Los Angeles Lakers big man Julius Randle, Ellenson can also take a defensive rebound coast to coast and handle the ball facing up.

Like Love and Randle, Ellenson doesn’t project to be a plus defender. But that’s tolerable as long as he rebounds the rock and offers assertive, multidimensional offense.

There’s no guarantee he’ll sniff his best-case scenario. He may just become a high-level role player or starter. However, it’s reasonable to believe that Ellenson could become the primary scoring option on his NBA team during his prime. He may flirt with 20-10 numbers if his repertoire continues to expand.

Don’t expect him to last past the first half of the lottery on draft night.

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