Ellenson looks to carve out larger role with Pistons

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Henry Ellenson is hoping his summer work is going to pay off.

After a decent couple of weeks of practice and games in the Orlando Summer League, getting the Pistons to the championship game, Ellenson is looking to carry that momentum into the season as training camp begins next week.

Ellenson, a 6-foot-11 forward, had a small role in his rookie season, but he’s looking to garner more playing time this year, with a year to see what the league is like, complementing the work he’s done in the offseason.

“Since summer league, I’ve gotten in the weight room a lot and hit that hard,” Ellenson said. “That and playing lower, attacking to get to the rim and being quick because I can handle the ball.”

Last season, Ellenson was caught in the logjam in the frontcourt, behind Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer and played in only 19 games, posting a modest 3.2 points and 2.2 rebounds. He got more playing time in the last four games, when his production rose to 9.8 points and 7.3 rebounds, but he only managed 29 percent on 3-pointers.

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His biggest target areas for improvement have been his defense and 3-point shooting, knowing those are the keys to impressing coach Stan Van Gundy and getting more time on the court. In his expanded role at the end of the season, he seemed to peak with the increased opportunity.

“Hitting open shots from 3 is something we didn’t do as well last year, so for a chance to get on the floor I had to improve on that,” Ellenson said. “I feel like my mechanics have been clean over the summer and my shot has been feeling good, so I’m happy going into training camp.”

Doing it in the regular season, with games on the line and against better players, will be a bigger challenge. Even in summer league, he wasn’t dominant, but had stretches where the flashes have left the Pistons coaching staff wanting more.

Ellenson, 20, wants more too. The opportunity for playing time is firmly in his sights, but he understands that going from a single season at Marquette and being the 18th overall pick in the 2016 draft to getting regular minutes isn’t a small jump.

The logjam in front of Ellenson at power forward hasn’t subsided any, either. Harris is likely to start, with Leuer also getting some minutes there. For Ellenson’s development, though, he’ll have to push through the deficiencies and find ways to get on the court.

“For me, a goal is to get those minutes in the rotation. It’s something I’ve been working hard for,” he said. “Training camp is going to be competitive — that’s the way it should be. I’m looking forward to that and the work I’ve put in this summer is setting me up for a good training camp.

“I have to have the right mentality going into it and competing and showing that I can help the team win. My personal goals are to try to help the team goals.”

Since Ellenson was drafted, Van Gundy has long prized his versatility and ability to shoot from long range, especially at his size. But if he doesn’t improve on the defensive end, at best, he might just be trading baskets with the player he’s guarding. Ellenson spent most of his time in the D-League with the Grand Rapids Drive last season — and it’s unlikely he’d do the same this year.

The Pistons have had some voluntary workouts at their practice facility, allowing Ellenson to mesh with the new faces on the roster, including Avery Bradley, Langston Galloway and the return of Anthony Tolliver, who also could play some power forward.

“We still have our core guys, but we did add new pieces. Like any team or any season, if you have the same guys or different guys, every year’s different,” he said. “It’s been good to have these workout together and have guys come in to play pickup to learn each other’s game, something we can use to figure out who you’re playing with and communicate with them and try to see how you play with each other, because that’s a big part of the game.”