Utah Jazz Draft Prospects: Henry Ellenson

Feb 13, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Marquette Golden Eagles forward Henry Ellenson (13) looks for a shot against Creighton Bluejays forward Toby Hegner (32) in the first half at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 13, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Marquette Golden Eagles forward Henry Ellenson (13) looks for a shot against Creighton Bluejays forward Toby Hegner (32) in the first half at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

Marquette big man Henry Ellenson boasts a unique offensive skill set that could make him a consideration for the Utah Jazz with the No. 12 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

For many, the most glaring area of need for the Utah Jazz is at the point guard position. However, with Dante Exum set to return from injury next season, the team will likely look to the young Aussie (and, perhaps, a veteran free agent) to right the ship at the one spot.

Some would point to the wings, where the team was exposed last season with the injury to Alec Burks and nagging ailments for Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood as the season wore on. Again–many feel the answer lies on the open market with a veteran player.

This leaves the frontcourt, where the team boasts one of the better rotations in the league with Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Trey Lyles.

Although some would assert that a rookie big man is the last thing the Jazz need going into next season, there’s a chance that the best prospect on the board at No. 12 could end up being a frontcourt player.

Today’s example–Marquette forward/center Henry Ellenson.

Mock drafts and big boards around the ‘net tend to lump the 19-year-old in with a cadre of frontcourt prospects projected as late lottery/mid-first round picks, including Jakob Poeltl, Deyonta Davis, Skal Labissiere and Domantas Sabonis.

Nonetheless, one could make an argument for taking Ellenson ahead of the field based on some of his unique offensive skills.

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Big Man on the Break

Versatility is key in the modern NBA. Specifically in the frontcourt, where big men are asked to do more and more as the game continues to evolve. In this respect, Ellenson showed some good things in his lone season with the Golden Eagles.

At 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, Ellenson is a four/five in the professional ranks. However, his ball handling ability and passing enabled him to run the break like a guard in college. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone willing to label him as fleet of foot, but Ellenson moves well in the open court, provided he gets a full head of steam.

In my recent chat with NBA-TV analyst Stu Jackson, the former coach was high on this aspect of Ellenson’s game–

"“Like a guy at the top end of the lottery in Dragan Bender, [Ellenson] legitimately has the ability to get the ball off of the backboard, start your fast break, and make a sound passing decision.”"

Ellenson showed the ability to grab n’ go on multiple occasions, sometimes straight to the hoop for a bucket.

While he doesn’t show the same speed, fluidity or vision in the half-court, his shooting mechanics suggest that he could develop into a stretch option at the NBA level. He made just 29 percent of his three-point attempts last season and has a tendency to shoot flat, but has a smooth stroke and touch on his jumper.

Ellenson can also play with both hands in the post and has developed a nice floater and a jump hook. Whether or not he’ll be able to have the same success with those shots against NBA athletes/size remains to be seen, but the skills are definitely in place.

He also projects to be a solid rebounder with good size at nearly seven feet, combined with a seven-foot-three wingspan, a nine-foot standing reach and strong instincts on the glass. He averaged just under 10 rebounds per game at Marquette and was fourth in the Big East in rebound percentage last year.

Defensive Transition

Now for the bad news. For all the moves Ellenson shows in the open court offensively, he needs some work on defense. His size and measurables lend hope to the idea that he’ll be able to guard at the next level, but it will take a significant level of growth on his part to do so.

The wheels he shows on the break once he really gets going don’t translate to lateral movement on defense. When he’s going head to head with some of the more versatile bigs in the pro game, guys that can play on the perimeter and put the ball on the floor, he’s going to struggle to stay in front.

This will probably exhibit itself in the screen-roll game as well, where his ability to read the play and physically stay with it was suspect at times last season.

For all his size, he’s probably not going to be an elite rim protector at the NBA level either, despite averaging 1.5 blocks per game at Marquette. He lacks the hops, the shot-blocking instincts and defensive awareness to be a consistent paint deterrent against the offensive talent and schemes he’ll face at the next level.

Next: Will the Jazz Trade Their Pick to the Spurs?

Jazz Fit

In some ways, Ellenson hearkens back to the team’s No. 12 pick last season in Lyles. Their physical dimensions are eerily similar, although Ellenson is slightly taller and a step slower than the Jazzman.

Still, Ellenson appears to be best-suited in the role of a playmaking four, with a solid mid-range game and the potential to stretch the floor out to three-point range. He could be a small-ball center for the Jazz behind Gobert, but it’s probably not the most effective spot for him in the long-term.

Personally, I’m more partial to some of the other bigs in the range if the team finds itself selecting a frontcourt prospect.

Having said that, best player available is the name of the game in the draft, and while the Jazz are flush with talented big men, Ellenson does have an offensive skill set that could put him at the top of the team’s list at No. 12 if he’s still on the board.

Other Draft Profiles–Furkan Korkmaz, Timothe Luwawu