We might as well start preparing now for his inevitable rise in the 2016 NBA draft discussion. It's only a matter of time before Marquette freshman big man Henry Ellenson emerges as one of the perceived prizes in next June's field.
Having broken his hand late last March, Ellenson had to miss the McDonald's All-American Game, Nike Hoop Summit and Jordan Brand Classic—and consequently an opportunity to create some buzz heading into his freshman season.
But he didn't miss Marquette's recent August tour to Italy. And in his first live action back from injury, Ellenson was terrific through four games against international competition, as he showcased an eye-opening offensive attack and put up some serious numbers in the process.
|Ellenson Through Four Games in Italy|
At 6'10", he's a smooth athlete who's really improved his body over the last few years. Down to 228 pounds after weighing in at 261 back in 2012, Ellenson has become agile for a big man with broad shoulders and room for additional bulk.
For what it's worth, he looks the part of a future professional power forward.
But it's spectacular ball skills that ultimately separate Ellenson and fuel his NBA-friendly versatility.
He put on a ball-handling clinic in Italy. With a green light to initiate the break off defensive rebounds, Ellenson went coast to coast a number of times, resulting in fouls, layups or open shots for teammates:
Ellenson's ability to push the ball up the floor before the defense can set led to easy scoring chances.
His handles showed up in the half court as well, where Ellenson flashed a one-on-one game that highlighted go-to scoring potential.
He found ways to separate into makable shots off the dribble, whether it was runners on the move or a step-back in the mid-range:
Ellenson even knocked down four threes throughout the trip. Though it's unlikely to be a consistent weapon right away, his jumper has touch and range that suggest a future in stretch 4 position:
Still, while it's his face-up arsenal that sets him apart, Ellenson is equally as effective around the basket, thanks to some terrific hands, length and footwork.
He demonstrated the ability to finish righty or lefty in the paint, depending on which shoulder had more room to turn over. We also got to see Ellenson's instincts and nimble feet off a nifty up-and-under countermove:
His 7.5 rebounds per game were't overwhelming, but there aren't many concerns over his presence under the boards.
If there is an area where he's likely to take some criticism, it's on defense. Ellenson just doesn't project as a rim protector (blocked one shot in Italy) or stopper out on the perimeter. However, among his basketball IQ, mobility and long arms, it's doesn't currently seem like an alarming enough red flag.
Throughout the week overseas, we saw Ellenson hurt opposing defenses in transition, isolation and the post, and off pick-and-pops, pick-and-rolls and various catch-and-finishes. You get the impression he's going to be a player who can be featured in any set from every spot on the floor.
"I want to play all over," Ellenson told Fox Sports Wisconsin's Andrew Gruman. "I'm not a guy that's going to go into the post or just go on the wing. I like to mix it up with my game and play all over the court."
As Marquette's top option, there won't be any shortage of touches for Ellenson, either. ESPN.com's Paul Biancardi noted, "The offense will flow through him as he contributes and influences this program immediately."
Along with all the upside he gives scouts a taste of, Ellenson should be able to back it up with production.
The Kevin Love comparisons are sure to start up early. The two share similar inside-out repertoires, noses for the ball and defensive limitations.
The fact that this upcoming class might lack star power and slam dunks should also work toward Ellenson's favor. Outside of LSU's Ben Simmons and Kentucky's Skal Labissiere, there isn't exactly a secondary tier of prospects set in stone.
Duke's Brandon Ingram, California's Jaylen Brown, Kentucky's Jamal Murray and even Croatia's Dragan Bender will each be in the hunt. But if we haven't already, it's time to start mentioning Ellenson as a legitimate threat among those names.
At this point, few prospects ultimately seem like better top-10 bets than Ellenson, who appears to possess the skills and versatility that have become so valued in today's NBA.
Though he didn't quite face Final Four-caliber competition in Italy, his performance looked far from flukey. It shouldn't be long before the national spotlight identifies Ellenson and puts him in the center of this year's draft conversation.