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Van Gundy surprised Ellenson was available

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — About two picks before their turn, Pistons president Stan Van Gundy and assistant general manager Brian Wright started to get antsy in their draft room.

The first 10 picks or so had gone about as they had predicted, but the next few picks brought plenty of uncertainty. And that’s what helped the Pistons land a player they coveted in Henry Ellenson, whom they selected with their first-round pick, 18th overall, in Thursday’s NBA draft.

Ellenson, a 6-foot-11 big man, played just one year at Marquette before declaring early for the draft. Entering the draft, the Pistons needed help at backup point guard and backup power forward and stuck with trying to address one of their needs, nabbing Ellenson, who was projected to be a lottery pick in many mock drafts within the past week.

“We were really surprised," Van Gundy said. "He was a guy we had as basically no chance to get to 18, so we didn’t bring him in for a workout. We loved him and everything (all our scouts) had seen. He was a guy we didn’t think we had a shot at.

“It was pretty surprising to us that he was still there — and we’re really, really happy.”

Wojo: Ellenson ideal fit for youthful Pistons

Ellenson projects to fit with the Pistons’ reserve unit, adding rebounding and strength. Ellenson, 19, averaged 17 points and 9.7 rebounds for Marquette last season and hit 29 percent of his 3-pointers (30-of-104).

He was the Big East freshman of the year and an All-Big East selection, the first freshman to earn the honor since Carmelo Anthony did with Syracuse in 2003. He also was selected to the USBWA and Sporting News Freshman All-America teams.

Although Andre Drummond led the league in rebounding last season, Ellenson potentially could bolster the bench rebounding, playing alongside backup center Aron Baynes. The Pistons likely won’t bring back Anthony Tolliver, who was the reserve power forward last season, opening a spot for Ellenson on the bench.

“One of the things we thought is we needed to get a little bigger up front, particularly at the (power forward) spot. We’re big at center with Andre and Aron but our (power forwards) were all 6-8 or smaller,” Van Gundy said. “To get him — and he can play (power forward and center) — he really knows how to play basketball, great instincts.

“It gives us a lot of things to work with; we’re really excited. It just unfolded a lot differently than we thought it would.”

“I think I can fit it and be a stretch-4 for them,” Ellenson said at the draft. “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 other side of versatility there being able to make plays in the 4 spot.”

The Pistons’ starting forwards, Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris, also played some minutes with the second unit. But the Pistons lacked another post option besides Drummond and Baynes; Ellenson provides that skill set.

Van Gundy admitted that getting Ellenson was a surprise, because he was 10th on the Pistons’ draft board and as their pick got closer, they were optimistic about Ellenson still being there.

“The pick Brian was sweating out was 16 to Boston. He thought (Ellenson) might go there,” Van Gundy said. “When we got past that, Brian knew 17 that (Memphis) was going to take a guard, so we were fine with that one.”

The apparent slide also was a surprise to Ellenson, but as he waited in the green room at the draft at Barclays Center in New York, he didn’t let the moment overtake him. Like several other prospects in the first round, he just had to wait a little longer for his name to be called.

“I didn’t expect to be on the board at 18 but God has a plan and I feel like this is the right place for me to go,” Ellenson said via conference call. “It’s in the Midwest and they made the playoffs last year and I feel like I can contribute a lot right away.”

Van Gundy said that the Pistons had Ellenson ranked No. 10 on their draft board and they were shocked to see him available at their pick.

But Van Gundy doesn’t expect Ellenson to step in right away and play heavy minutes. There’s still plenty of time for them to assess what he can bring.

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

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HENRY ELLENSON

Position: Power forward

Height/weight: 6-foot-11, 242 pounds

Age: 19

College: Marquette (left after freshman year)

Stats: Averaged 17 points and 9.7 rebounds, hitting 45 percent from the field, in 33 games with Marquette.

Notable: Good inside post moves and range on the perimeter. Good, mobile athlete who can handle the ball for a big man. He was the Big East freshman of the year and was first-team all-conference.

Outlook: He could get some playing time off the bench next season and will fit well with the reserve group, as the Pistons lacked a power forward with size. He’ll add some perimeter shooting, similar to backup center Aron Baynes, but the Pistons won’t rush to try to have him play significant minutes early.