Pistons' Henry Ellenson carries on masked tradition

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Orlando, Fla.  — It’s as if the Aron Baynes karma still resides with the Pistons.

Even when he’s gone, he still has a presence — even in an almost negative way.

Baynes, the Pistons’ backup center last season who used his player option to become a free agent, seemingly wore a mask for much of the last two seasons, suffering a broken nose.

Now, he’s passed that on to Henry Ellenson, who was sporting a mask on Tuesday, the first day of practice for the Pistons’ summer league team.

“I broke my nose (playing pickup) a couple weeks ago but it’s all good now,” Ellenson said. “But Baynes didn’t do it.”

In a practice last season, Ellenson’s errant elbow caught Baynes, the tough Aussie who seemed to shake off the injury as one would a common nosebleed.

“I texted him right away to let him know. He laughed right away but said if I need anything he’d take me out for ice cream,” Ellenson said. “I was playing pickup back home with my brothers. It was my fault — just got caught reaching for a ball. It’s just a nose, so I was able to get back shooting within the next week.

“It’s a rite of passage, being a Detroit Piston, you have to wear a mask.”

Kennard, Ellenson headline Pistons’ summer league team

Ellenson joins the likes of Baynes Michael Gbinije, Tobias Harris and Darrun Hilliard, all who suffered a broken nose last season.

Ellenson said the mask isn’t a big hindrance and he’s looking forward to contributing in the Orlando Summer League, which begins for the Pistons on Saturday at Amway Center. It’ll be the coaching staff’s first opportunity to see what Ellenson has worked on in the offseason and how he might fit into the plans this season.

The biggest issue was his performance on the defensive end, which he said he’s gotten better at in his offseason work. That’s what coach Stan Van Gundy wants to see.

“(Stan and I) had a talk and the biggest thing he stressed was defense. He wants to trust me on the defensive end. I’ve got a chance to prove that here in the next 10 days,” Ellenson said. “To be able to play in summer league, you don’t get this type of action for the rest of the summer, so I have to make the most of this time and focus on sitting down, getting my calls right and be in the right position and make the right defensive play.”

One immediate change is that Ellenson, 6-foot-11, shed some weight and looks a bit fitter, with the help of strength coach Jordan Sabourin.

“Jordan and I have been hitting it hard and I’ve been eating healthier, dropping fat and putting on muscle,” he said. “My core and my hips are huge defensively when I sit and get in a stance. We’ve been doing things with the summer lift program in June. It’s been good.

“I just feel a lot lighter and I’m in a stance better. Getting up and down today was good. It was a good first day and I’m excited about the rest of this week of practice.”

As a 19-year-old rookie last season, Ellenson wasn’t the focal point of the summer league team or the offense, playing in just 19 games with the Pistons. But in Orlando this summer, he has higher expectations, including playing more of a leadership role.

Third-year wing Stanley Johnson is practicing with the team but isn’t playing in any of the games, which will put more onus on Ellenson and rookie Luke Kennard to carry the load on the offensive end.

With a year under his belt, Ellenson is able to be a louder voice on the practice court and to help out the younger players who find themselves in the same position he was in at this time last year.

“My head was spinning a little bit, picking up plays and knowing defensive calls now and calling them right away,” Ellenson said. “I feel a lot more comfortable and now I can help explain what we’re doing instead of just asking.

“For Luke, it’s his first time with all this and he’s been doing a good job picking up on this.”


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard