Prospect Preview: Henry Ellenson

Henry Ellenson at Suns workout picture by Kyle Fleeger
Henry Ellenson at Suns workout picture by Kyle Fleeger /

You may have heard the term “Stretch 4,” a reference to a player who plays power forward based on size, but shoots like a guard.

Most all NBA teams are looking for players who have a combination of size on defense, and the ability to spread the floor on offense. I already broke down the workouts of Jaylen Brown and  Domantas Sabonis, both of whom are looking to fill the same role for NBA teams next season, quite possibly here in Phoenix.

Henry Ellenson, a freshman from Marquette, was in The Stick Resorts Arena today working out for the Suns coaching staff and front office. Like Brown and Sabonis before him, his representatives set up an individual workout, opting not to have him participate in the traditional 3-on-3 workouts.

Ellenson is the “biggest” of the three, listed as 6’10” without shoes, 242 pounds, and has a standing reach of 9’0″. He appears to be more of a “stretch 5”, with the ability to play Center down the road, than a “stretch 4”.

Ellenson blocked more than double the number of shots per game as Brown, while shooting as well from 3pt range on nearly an identical number of attempts (Ellenson 29% on 104 3PA – Brown 29% on 102 3PA). Ellenson also shot much better from the FT line than Brown (75% to 65% respectively), a stat that is often a better barometer of a players future shooting ability.

The idea of doing the same thing with the center position that teams have been popularizing with power forwards is intriguing. You can see mismatches on offensive pick ‘n’ rolls, without losing the ability to protect the rim as something teams will continue to gravitate towards. Ellenson has a diverse offensive game and is capable of putting the ball on the floor both in half-court sets and off of defensive rebounds. As a result, if he can continue to improve his range to the NBA 3-pt line, he could be a serious scoring threat. He averaged 20 points per 40 minutes as a freshman last year, near the tops of the NCAA.

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Ellenson, like Brown, was a big-time recruit coming out of Wisconsin, ranked one spot behind Brown at #5 on ESPN’s rankings for the 2015 High School class. He was the first Marquette player since Kerry Trotter in 1982 to be invited to the McDonald’s All-American Game and lived up to the hype earning Big East Freshman of the Year honors. He has played against elite competition at every level going back to the Gold Medal he won as a part of the USA’s U17 World Championship team.

Ellenson is probably too slow laterally to guard any small forwards. He could even struggle defensively against athletic power forwards. Other than that, he has the prototypical size and strength to be solid on the defensive side of the ball.

Ellenson’s problems on defense are with his will, not his skill. Jonathan Givony of elaborates, “Defensive concerns are likely always going to be a serious issue unless Ellenson makes a real commitment to playing harder and smarter on this end of the floor, something you can’t necessarily close the book on considering he’s only 19 years old. With that said, the early results thus far haven’t been promising.”

If he can’t improve on the defensive side of the ball, it’s possible that he limits his time on the court. If he can improve his effort and intelligence on the defensive side of the ball, Ellenson will have a place in the NBA for a long time.

Ellenson’s defensive concerns make him an interesting fit in Phoenix, where the defensive side of the ball already leaves a lot to be desired. However, the upside on offense is immense. Henry moves incredibly well on offense with the ball in his hands. He’s one of the rare players his size who can play either position in a pick n roll. As a result, he could be a very dangerous threat on the offensive end, especially if surrounded by shooters who can space the floor and create additional room for him to operate.

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His True-shooting percentage was only 54%. Not ideal for someone with his size and offensive versatility and most of that can be attributed to him doing too much. He isn’t a willing or gifted passer, but then again, he wasn’t surrounded with the same level of talent in high school or at Marquette, so that could improve.

Ellenson showed a good motor completing 25 baseline to baseline reps in the Suns “3-minute run” and was actually sprinting at the end to push himself, drawing applause from those watching.

It would be surprising if the Suns chose Ellenson with the #4 pick, as there isn’t seen a single mock draft with him going that high. It would be equally surprising if Ellenson was available at #13 when the Suns pick for a second time, as the same mock drafts don’t have him dropping that far.

So, while Ellenson could present the Suns with excellent offense at the PF/C positions that they lack in Chandler and Len, he’s going to have to prove that his upside is on the same level as Dragan Bender, Jaylen Brown, and Marquese Chriss. In order to do that, he’s going to have to show a lot on the defensive end, and an ability to improve his outside shot.

Whichever team ends up drafting him will be tough to defend in the post and pick ‘n roll. As long as he keeps developing offensively, he should have a good NBA career.