Henry Ellenson, the Nets 6’11 two-way, has had an interesting four years in the NBA. He was selected by Detroit as the 18th pick in the 2016 draft, the same draft that produced three teammates: Taurean Prince at No. 12, Caris LeVert at No. 20, and two-way Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrrot, at 24.
With Prince and LeVert in the Brooklyn Nets starting line-up (when healthy) and Luwawu-Cabarrot trying to establish himself as a rotation spot in recent weeks, Ellenson is a bit of an odd man out. He has only seen action in three games in a Brooklyn uniform.
Instead, Ellenson has played the majority of the season with the Long Island Nets, which was expected. Despite being a mere 28.7 miles away from the Barclays Center, Ellenson understands he has a ways to go. Still, he acknowledges he is getting minutes as a member of Long Island that he hadn’t gotten in years.
”For me, I know we have been losing and it’s tough and that’s the tough part,” Ellenson said of the team’s 5-11 record. “But I haven’t played in three years. I don’t think I played this many games in a year in a long time. I have been on trips but I haven’t played like this in a while. It is like an AAU tournament all over again so I am having fun and just playing. It is just that plain and simple.”
To put it into perspective, Ellenson is averaging 31.5 minutes in 10 games in Uniondale this season. The last time the Nets two-way has played that many minutes over a 10-game span was 2016-17, his rookie season, with the Pistons G League affiliate, the Grand Rapid Drive. (35.2 minutes in 21 total games.)
He did have some good minutes last season with the Knicks, but at the end of the season, New York renounced his rights to build up their cap space.
That left the door open for the Nets to sign him to a two-way.
In September at the Long Island Nets final local player tryout, Matt Riccardi, the Long Island Nets general manager, labeled Ellenson as their project player for the 2019-20 season. At Media Day, Ellenson said he wouldn’t call himself a project player but he was ready for a new opportunity that included guaranteed minutes which Ellenson couldn’t stop smiling about.
“I think there is definitely value,” Riccardi said then of Ellenson. “He has NBA experience. Now, Henry is a little bit younger (at 22), which is good, and he has a ton of developmental potential which we are excited about and I think it is good for everyone to see this is where we want to go and this is how we get there.”
“For me, I wouldn’t call myself a project,” Ellenson responded. “I think it is just a matter of opportunity for me. That is how I felt my first two years. Going into this, I am just trying to show my skill set. how I can shoot a three, how I can play at a 4 spot, but you know obviously this is a year for me to get better and I know I will be getting minutes with the Nets and that is minutes I really never had before.”
The Nets two-way has taken advantage of his minutes this season in Uniondale. He is averaging 20.1 points a game and 10.4 rebounds. He’s shooting 49 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from three. He’s had seven games of 20 or more points. In fact, he has been producing those numbers under a new role Ellenson has not played much in his previous seasons: a stretch 5.
“I think the way the game is going, in 2019, the guys at the 5 position need to stretch the floor,” Ellenson said. “Getting these minutes and learning the role, it is not a totally unfamiliar role. I have played the 4 for the last couple of years so I’ll be able to play the 5 is just another step down. I feel good about it. With the way the game is played and everyone is switching, it is a free flowing game so you have to be able to do it on the court.
“I do feel good about it. The only thing tough about it was handling those ball screens and get to those guards, make the right calls, and being able to switch is the biggest thing at the new position. Offensively, I feel fine out there.”
Last week, he had his best game as a stretch 5, scoring a G League career-high 33 points against Rio Grande Valley at the league’s just-completed Winter Showcase. He also grabbed 12 rebounds in 38 minutes and shot 14-of-19 from the field and 3-of-6 from three in the loss.
Jameer Nelson, who was Henry Ellenson’s former teammate in Detroit, and who is calling the game stated the only knock on Ellenson’s game was his defense. But he said he liked “Big Bank Hank’s” offensive game a lot.
Shaun Fein, the Long Island Nets head coach, values the stretch 5 role Ellenson is able to bring to his squad when he is in Uniondale.
”He gives us something we don’t have when he is not here,” Fein said. “A 5 that can stretch the floor, bring their bigs out of the paint, which allows easier driving lanes for our guards to get to the paint without any rim protection, it is a great position to have for us and Henry did a pretty good job for us tonight. We would like to see it a little bit more.”
Despite Ellenson playing well in Long Island, there is little to no room for him in Brooklyn to fill a stretch 5 role due to the depth at the five with DeAndre Jordan, Jarrett Allen, and rookie Nic Claxton.
But the Marquette product is playing and improving. At age 22, he and the Nets have plenty of time to make things happen.