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Newest Piston Ellenson looms large -- inside and out

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Detroit Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, front, greets the team's 2016 first-round draft pick Henry Ellenson Friday at the conclusion of a news conference.

Auburn Hills — As he’s progressed in basketball, Henry Ellenson has been something of an anomaly, with his size and varied abilities.

In eighth grade, he was an oversized point guard and in high school, he often looked out of place at 6-foot-10, playing out on the perimeter instead of in the paint. But because his father was the coach, Ellenson didn’t get much pushback in trying to expand his versatility.

All the disparate skills came together to make a package that the Pistons picked No. 18 overall in Thursday night’s NBA draft — and made Ellenson vastly different than any of the other picks around him in the first round.

“I played point guard all the way up to eighth grade and then I picked it back up my junior and senior years in high school,” Ellenson said Friday at his introductory press conference at the Pistons practice facility. “I’ve always been comfortable with the ball in my hands and facing up toward the basket. I think that where a lot of my versatility comes from.”

He won’t play point guard for the Pistons, but he’ll have an opportunity to show his other skills, beginning next week when the Pistons start practice for their summer league team in Orlando.

Beard: Pistons emerge as draft winners nabbing Ellenson

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy values Ellenson’s ability to create off the dribble and his game facing the basket, a skill set that was missing last season.

“He can face up 17 feet and in, he can shoot the jumper but he can also put it on the floor and attack and make plays,” Van Gundy said Friday. “He’s got a great feel, to take the ball off the board and bust out on the dribble. He’s a highly skilled guy and it’s going to be fun to learn his game as we get going.”

Van Gundy admitted that he hadn’t watched much video on Ellenson because he didn’t think the big man — who was projected to be a lottery pick in some mock drafts — would be available at 18.

After reviewing more game video, Van Gundy came away more impressed.

“It’s exactly what everybody said; he’s got great offensive instincts and great skills, can play with either hand and shoot the ball and put it on the floor and make some passes,” Van Gundy said. “He’s pretty skilled.

“The other end of the floor is going to be a challenge, as it is with most guys anyway, but especially with bigger guys coming in at the (power forward) spot because you have to defend inside and out on the pick-and-roll against quick guys.”

Ellenson projects to be another big body off the bench, but his skills on the perimeter could complement reserve center Aron Baynes with the second group. Baynes has a similar face-up game to hit a midrange jumper, but also has post skills, with a sweeping hook shot.

Hearkening back to his younger days, Ellenson will find himself both in the paint and on the outside, but finding the right mix will be the tricky part. Now, it’s not as unusual to see a 6-foot-11 player hitting shots from outside.

“A lot of people wanted to know, ‘What is this big guy doing on the perimeter?’” he said. “I have to show teams and people what I can do facing the basket. I would have that and grab the rebound and go coast to coast — they can’t take it from you.”

But before any of that starts, Ellenson will begin with summer league, where he’ll get his first indoctrination into the NBA, starting next week. Pistons assistant coach Bob Beyer will have the reins and will begin the work to help get Ellenson — and second-round pick Michael Gbinije — ready.

Ellenson is ready for the challenge.

“I do want to compete and bring all I can to this team. I have a hunger to be out there on the court with those guys but I know it’s a learning process, being a rookie in the league,” he said. “I’m going to do what I have to do and put my work in and see how this year goes and do what the coach needs me to do.”

That probably won’t be as a point guard.