Depending on who you ask, Henry Ellenson is either a future franchise cornerstone or a big that has a streaky shot, doesn't play defense, and has a lot of potential. No matter who you ask, they'll tell you that Ellenson is one of the most interesting prospects in the 2016 draft class. After averaging 17 points and 9.9 rebounds per game in his lone season at Marquette, he showed exactly what made him into Wisconsin Mr. Basketball in 2015. Mock drafts have him going everywhere from 5th overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves all the way to 17th with the Memphis Grizzlies. His physical attributes, offensive skill-set and potential, and rebounding ability have made him one of the most tempting prospects in the draft. However, his lack of defense, explosiveness, and maturity prove that his freshman year left more questions than answers as to the caliber of player he will be at the next level.
Standing at almost 6'11'' in shoes and weighing in at 245 pounds, NBA scouts have called Ellenson the prototypical NBA big of the future. What he could possibly bring on offense mixed with his length and bulk is exactly the trend seen in the modern front-court player. Guys like Draymond Green, who can facilitate an offense, score on the block, and hit threes consistently are slowly becoming more prevalent and are what teams are looking for. Teams that see Ellenson's length, offensive upside, and physical tools should drool over the potential, especially when pairing it with a 7'2'' wingspan and 9'1'' reach. He projects as a power forward at the next level but could be a great small ball center, similar to how the Warriors use Green and others when Andrew Bogut is off the floor.
Ellenson's bread and butter is his offensive versatility, without a question. For someone as bulky as he is, it's impressive with how quickly he moves up and down the court and handles the ball. He has smooth handles and is obviously very comfortable bringing it up the court as he controls the ball roughly 40% of the time. This makes him a must guard in the open floor, as he's liable to go coast-to-coast with just about any rebound or fast break opportunity. While he isn't an elite athlete by any means, he moves well with the ball and does a good job of running the floor in transition. He's also excellent at putting the ball on the floor and driving into the lane. He has great touch on his floaters and can finish with both hands around the rim with ease.
To go along with his abnormally good handles, he's also showing the potential to be a great three-point shooter when he gets into the NBA. Almost everything about his shooting form and stroke scream that he could be a knock-down shooter at the next level. He has solid mechanics leading into the release and a good follow through. Despite only shooting 29 percent from deep, he did shoot over 40 percent from mid-range and has a tendency to shoot jumpers — as he popped out for a jumper instead of rolling to the basket in pick and roll situations 79 percent of the time.
Alongside that, his post game is showing as much upside as what he can do on the perimeter. While he still favors playing over his dominant shoulder, he can finish at the rim with both hands with ease. He's developing a good feel for his low-post game and is even adding things to his game like a turn around jumper and being able to finish over each shoulder. If he can some go-to low-post moves and develop a more consistent perimeter jumper then Ellenson will be a one-man wrecking crew on offense.
To complete his offensive repertoire, Ellenson shows a lot of promise as a rebounder at the next level. His good instincts and nose for the basketball usually put him in position to at least contend for the rebound. He does not shy away from contact while fighting for a rebound, instead he embraces it and uses his frame to carve out space under the hoop to scoop up rebounds with ease.
Whatever Ellenson could be as an offensive player, he's the exact opposite on defense. It's clear that he put all of his focus on honing his offensive abilities and all but forgot about playing defense. He really struggles moving his feet on defense, allowing opponents to blow by him with ease. He has a lot of bad habits too like ball watching and over helping. He especially struggles in the pick and roll, a staple in every offense in the NBA. He neither hedges the screen nor keeps the ball in front of him when facing the pick and roll. His poor defensive stance and lack of effort often leave him out of position, clearing the way for easy buckets in the lane. He gives little resistance and opposing bigs can often tear right through him. His lack of athleticism and explosiveness also limit his ability to be a rim protector, given that he is only 6'10''.
His explosiveness, or lack thereof, is something that also turns NBA teams off. He plays below the rim more often than not and is not an explosive leaper. His short first step on offense limits how explosive he can be. With proper coaching he can shake some of these poor fundamentals but there is no cure for lack of bounce. Tall, lanky players would be able to change or reject his shots with ease because he cannot get enough lift over them to get a clean look.
Of all of his flaws, the one that should be able to be fixed in an NBA system is his decision making. There were a lot of times last season that he looked like and played like an 18-year-old. The game still moves fast for him, especially when handling the ball. He is prone to get tunnel vision, missing wide open players in transition and in the flow of the offense. Ellenson settles for contested jumpers and has a tendency to take bad shots early in the shot clock. Alongside that, he has a horrible tendency to not look for the open teammate when double-teamed, but instead tries to split it or turns away from it and forces a bad shot. This is an issue that many college stars face and will change the moment he stops being the focal point of an offense. Most players outgrow this tendency with some time on the bench and learning the offense.
I think Ellenson will pan out as an NBA prospect. This comparison might be lost on some, but he reminds me a lot of a best-case-scenario version of what former Notre Dame star Luke Harangody was when he came out in the 2010 draft, but with more upside. Harangody was billed as a rebounding stretch four but his lack of athleticism and inability to develop his game from distance led to his ultimate downfall. If Ellenson could develop a reliable shot from deep and become a league-average defender, he could eventually become an above-average starter at the next level.