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NBA Draft Prospect Preview: Henry Ellenson, is he really a "stretch" four?

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

For the rest of the month, we'll be previewing some prospects that the Raptors could consider taking at #9. Today, we'll look at Marquette power forward Henry Ellenson.

Henry Ellenson

Marquette (FR) - Power Forward - 6'11 - 242 lbs - 7'2 Wingspan - Born January 13, 1997

2015-16 Stats: 17.0 PTS - 9.7 REB - 1.8 AST - 1.5 BLK - 44.6 FG% - 28.8 3FG% - 74.9 FT%

Find his complete college career stat breakdown here.

June has not been a kind month to Henry Ellenson and his draft stock. For most of the season, the Marquette big man had been slotted as a surefire top-10 choice -- Chad Ford had him going to the Raptors at nine as recently as June 3rd. But the last few weeks have seen experts and the Internet sour on his potential. As his easiest lazy player comparison in the league -- Kevin Love -- showed how much his slow-footed defense could limit his team (save for Game 7 of the Finals,), Ellenson's popularity began to slip.

Two years ago, Ellenson might not have suffered such a steep tumble down draft boards. For a brief flashpoint in time, Ellenson's skill set was the hottest commodity on the market; shooting at the four was the target skill for teams looking to get a step ahead of the NBA's evolutionary curve.

The prototype has since been altered. A big man's ranginess on defense has become even more important than his ability to knock down a jumper. As a result, Ellenson no longer fits the bill as an idyllic stretch-four. Instead, his game looks more like a relic of the league's brief big-to-small transition phase.

From his Draft Express profile:

The biggest concerns about Ellenson as a NBA prospect revolve around his play on the defensive end. At 6'10, he is somewhat heavy legged stepping out on the perimeter and guarding quicker power forwards, and doesn't show great explosiveness or timing as a rim protector to allow him to anchor a team's defense at the center position.
Ellenson's instincts, awareness and intensity level leaves a lot to be desired defensively, as he's not one to put his body on the line and struggles trying to cover ground on the pick and roll, often looking flat-footed rotating on the back of his heels and getting caught in no man's land. Playing alongside a similarly challenged 6'11 center in a twin-tower lineup didn't do him a lot of favors at the college level, but this is something he'll probably have to deal with at the power forward spot in the NBA as well.

That last passage is particularly concerning if you're a Raptors fan considering who his long-term front court partner would be if Toronto drafted him.

Ellenson's offensive game is genuinely promising, though, even if his shooting was nowhere near the level you'd expect someone touted as a stretchy big to be. He looks a hell of a lot more fluid on offense than a 19-year-old of his size probably should. He's got a decent handle to work with, and it's not as if his shooting stroke is busted. On top of that, his post game could become an asset as large swaths of the league zig way from an interior focus on offense (especially if his sub par passing can improve).

Here's what Jonathan Givony of DX has to say on his offensive chops:

Ellenson shows potential as a perimeter shooter, knocking down 30 3-pointers in 33 games this season, but is not quite there yet in terms of consistency, hitting just 29% of his attempts. Looking at his shooting mechanics, and the fact that he knocked down 75% of his free throw attempts, it's not difficult to envision him becoming an effective floor spacing big man in time, as his streakiness as a shooter seemed to have more to do with shot-selection than any concerns about his natural ability. He was very effective in the mid-range area, hitting 40% of his attempts on the season there (SST), sometimes pulling up off the dribble impressively, but had a tendency to short-arm many of his 3-point attempts, which often came with a hand in his face.
What separates Ellenson from most big men is the skill-level he demonstrates with the ball in his hands. He's extremely impressive with his ability to put the ball on the floor, not just when grabbing a defensive rebound and going coast to coast, but also in the half-court, using shot-fakes, advanced ball-handling moves and body control to create his own shot and get to the rim.

Ellenson's offensive tools haven't saved him from slipping in mock drafts. It seems pretty clear that his defensive holes might be too cavernous for a team in the top-10 to put his name down on draft night. Here's where the experts have him going days before the big night.

Site Draft Express CBS Sports ESPN Insider Sports Illustrated
Ellenson's Projected Draft Slot 10 (MIL) 16 (BOS) 14 (CHI) 13 (PHX) 13 (PHX)

The Fit

It's so easy to look at the gaping hole the Raptors have at the four and compulsively want to shoehorn a guy like Ellenson into the void. Drafting for need is a great idea in theory, but the reality is that it's borderline impossible to do - especially as late as ninth-overall. Plugging a position of weakness with a rookie draftee doesn't suddenly turn it into a rock-solid pillar of the team.

Picking the best player on the board that fits a perceived need is fine, but taking the most talented guy left, period, is a more prudent strategy. Roster building in the NBA is fickle, and the nature of needs and surpluses evolves. Remember when the Raptors drafted Delon Wright to replace Greivis Vasquez as Kyle Lowry's back-up last year?

Ellenson might look like a smart choice as a guy the Raptors will try to groom as the power forward of the future, but if he's not the most potential-filled prospect still sitting there at nine -- a strong possibility considering the flaws in his game -- it won't be a great marriage between team and player.

The Verdict

Ellenson very well could improve his poor college shooting numbers to a percentage that better matches his mechanics, but the other half of his game may not be fixable. Ellenson might just be too slow to ever be a reliable piece of a strong defense. That doesn't doom him to an NBA career that will flame out in short order -- plenty of one-dimensional players find long-term roles in the league.

But for the Raptors, using a pick that's essentially a free lottery ticket, they should be aiming higher on a player that at least has the tools to be something more than a niche-carver. There's no guarantee someone like Skal Labissiere, Deyonta Davis or Timothé Luwawu will contribute more value over their NBA careers than Ellenson, but gambling on upside over floor makes more sense for Toronto given the context in which they're making the selection.

What do you think of Marquette's Henry Ellenson?