Henry Ellenson, the 6’11” stretch 4 signed without fanfare in July, thinks he’s found a new opportunity with the Brooklyn Nets. The 22-year-old is excited about playing on a two-way contract with the Nets and is ready to make a name for himself as the organization’s next development project. In fact, he says the Nets growing reputation for saving young players’ careers attracted him to Brooklyn.
“Expectations, for me, going into this year on a two-way contract, just go into camp, and this is new for me to be on a two-way,” Ellenson said. “I’d say make a name for myself again, be a guy that can step into that 4 spot and be a stretch 4. Try to do the team needs, play well, take everything day by day.”
Even before the Nets signing Ellenson to a two-way contract back in July, he and the Nets had mutual interest in each other, dating back to when he was waived by the Detroit Pistons at the deadline in February. Instead, Ellenson signed a 10-day with the Knicks, which New York converted into a standard deal for the rest of the 2018-19 season.
“There was,” Ellenson said. “I know my agent was talking with the Nets and for me, after, when I got waived at the trade deadline I went home since it was right around All-Star break and I did not know where I was going to be.
“The Knicks were the first team to reach out and say ‘hey come along’ so that is why I went there. I signed the 10-day right away and then I knew the Nets were already talking with my agent about if the Knicks don’t pick it up then the Nets would take me but then the Knicks signed me for the rest of the season. You know it is kind of crazy how I finally came across to the other side now to Brooklyn and play for the Nets.”
Now a Net, Ellenson feels a different vibe compared to his time with the Pistons and the Knicks. When he was waived by Detroit, Ellenson was clearly happy to hop into a new opportunity with New York.
When asked about his new team, Ellenson says he already likes the vibe within the Nets organization compared to New York. After initially given big minutes with the Knicks —he played 36 minutes in his second game and hit the dagger over Orlando, Ellenson was happy to get a new contract, but just as suddenly, his minutes dropped off and he only got his second chance in the last four games of the season. The situation mystified him. Then, the day before free agency, the Knicks renounced his rights to have more cap space for their vain pursuit of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Overall, it was a tough situation for him in New York, even tougher in Detroit where he played his first two years behind Blake Griffin as a teenager.
“Being able to leave Detroit and be picked up by the Knicks, originally signing a 10-day then being converted to the rest of the season contract, it was good for me to get out of Detroit after two and a half years, two seasons, whatever,” Ellenson said, smiling but obviously more than a tad bitter at his experience with the Pistons.
“Just being able to go somewhere else, be under different coaching staff, just getting a little bit of opportunity to go play in those last couple of games and being able to go out on the court was big for me. Being able to show a little bit and being on a real team like the Knicks, playing under the Garden but honestly I love the vibe over here in Brooklyn.”
He was mystified about why the Knicks played him big minutes early, then stopped.
“It was just something and I had those minutes taken away and then things just worked out that way,” Ellenson said. “They had guys there all year that wanted to play too and giving them minutes too so I had to be patient again. Then those last four games, I was thrown back on to the court and played well again, so for me it has always just been about getting those opportunities and making the most of it. That was just the situation I was in.”
So what made the Nets organization stick out to Ellenson? Clearly, he joined a team that was a proven free agent destination. More so, it was about the Nets track history of developing players and giving them opportunities, something he wanted in his next team. He also hinted that he had other two-way contract offers but liked the Nets reputation.
“Looking at the two-way contracts, I felt like this was the best place to come, which was Brooklyn,” said Ellenson who easily ticked off the names of other players the Nets developed successfully, players who he knew in some cases and told him about the opportunities.
“Guys talking about the family atmosphere, that growth atmosphere, they have brought in guys and gave them opportunities like [Spencer] Dinwiddie, who is a guy that came from the same situation as me in Detroit and they gave him an opportunity to come play here and show what he can do. Joe Harris as well and Caris [LeVert].
“Getting to work with guys and letting them grow as players then watching Theo [Pinson] last year and being able to come up a lot with the team [Brooklyn Nets] and I just noticed those things like that. Theo is now on a full roster spot so they pride themselves on helping young players reach their potential. For me, that was obviously I wanted to be a part of.”
It’s clear that Ellenson will be spending a lot of the 2019-20 season in the G League affiliate, the Long Island Nets. Last Saturday, at Long Island’s final local player tryout, Matt Riccardi, the GM of Long Island, labeled Ellenson as their project player and hopes to develop him throughout the season. Specifically, Riccardi said Ellenson, who was after all the 18th pick in the 2016 Draft, possessed a “ton of potential” and the organization is “excited” about his prospects.
For Ellenson, he is grateful for the opportunity to finally play good minutes. In addition, Ellenson has already spoken to Long Island Nets head coach Shaun Fein about the upcoming season. The 22 year-old expects a great year.
“For me, I wouldn’t call myself a project,” Ellenson said. “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.
“I am just excited this year to go play and it has been some very long years for me not to play that much so this year knowing I am going to get minutes on the court is going to be fun.”
“I have been talking with coach Shaun Fein about the season and the stuff we do up here that translates down to Long Island,” Ellenson said. “He knows my game well and he has talked to me about that and different kinds of things we will do in the offense down there to make it more comfortable for me and he just wants me to grow as a player too so I know he is going to be in my corner and be helpful. I expect a great year there.”
Indeed, Ellenson could get minutes early in the season with the 4 spot so unsettled. Kevin Durant is out, maybe for the year; WIlson Chandler is suspended for a third of the season and Rodions Kurucs legal situation remains uncertain after his domestic assault arrest.
Ellenson was a part of the Nets group that worked out in LA over the off-season. When asked about that experience and which Nets, if any, surprised him, the Marquette product said he was impressed with the threesome of Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert, and Spencer Dinwiddie.
“It was a lot of fun,” Ellenson said. “Going out there and playing a lot of pickup. Guys like Kyrie [Irving] was impressive to play against up close. It was a lot of fun playing with Caris [LeVert]. We did rookie pre-draft stuff together and we are the same age. I was a lot of fun playing with guys like Spencer [Dinwiddie], who is fast-paced and running down the court. It was a great chunk of our summer out in LA getting better and pushing each other.”
Ellenson is a big man who is not afraid of letting it fly from three and can shoot from anywhere on the floor. In his three-year NBA career, Ellenson has a career shooting percentage of 35.3 percent from behind the arc if only 37.7 overall. He hit 44 percent from deep in his short time with the Knicks and 41.2 percent overall.
In addition to his shooting skills, Ellenson is a more than respectable passer and ball-handler for his size.
“I played point guard in high school and I would play point guard here but we have some great ones,” Ellenson said. “I like to be able to do a lot on the court. I think that is something that makes me different, I am very versatile with the ball, and that is something I want to just keep working on and showing it with any opportunity I can get. Just make the most of it, be like a stretch four, shoot the ball because teams need those these days so I just gotta keep shooting the ball at a high clip and I think I will be alright.”
It’s part of the Nets organization’s love of bigs who handle the ball. Nicolas Claxton ran a lot of the Georgia offense last season even though he’s hair short of 7-feet. has heard a frontcourt player talk about playing the point. Last season, Dzanan Musa, at 6’9”, was attracted to playing point guard at the NBA level and he got the opportunity to play some minutes at the point and Kurucs said the Nets envision him, too, as a secondary playmaker, offering the model of Draymond Green.
Ellenson, of course, has different motivation. He smiles as he talks about his journey, but he like Dinwiddie before him no doubt wants to be ready when the Pistons come to town.