"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, March 06, 2017

A year without Henry Ellenson equals a better team for Marquette

April 5, 2016, Marquette forward Henry Ellenson declared for the NBA draft.  The extremely talented freshman was off to greener pastures and a Marquette basketball team that missed the NIT was left wondering what was next.  Few blamed Ellenson for the decision, though many felt he wasn't ready, myself included.  The draft was weak and this was his chance to earn serious money doing what he loves to do. He was slotted to be picked anywhere from 9th to 19th by the time draft day rolled around.  My thoughts at the time were he would be unproductive this year in the NBA and probably even spend time in the D-League.  I had interviewed Jonathon Givony of DraftExpress and put those questions to him in May of last year.

The bigger question on the minds of Warrior fans was the void filled by Ellenson's departure.  How does one replace that kind of talent and what on earth was Marquette going to do without him in Wojo's third season.  The answer, you don't replace him and you get better in the process.  Addition by subtraction.  That statement is not meant to diminish the talents of Ellenson at all.  The reality is the team too often deferred to Henry last year, and didn't grow as a result. Henry took the big shots, Henry got the rebounds, Henry played a lot of minutes, Henry was the face of the team on and off the court.  Mostly this was by default, he was the one guy Wojo could rely on consistently.

Would a team this year with Howard, Hauser, Ellenson, Rowsey, Fischer, Wilson and Johnson be lights out?  On paper, wow!  In reality, I get the feeling guys that have grown so much this year would not have if that lineup were in place. Would the have overcome the urge to defer to the future NBA draft pick?  Impossible to know for sure, fans can debate the what if scenarios.

As for Ellenson, he was drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the 18th overall pick.  His first year has been one of struggles, not overly surprising to many of us. To date he has appeared in 14 NBA games and scored just 21 points with 12 rebounds in 56 total minutes.  He has played more games, sixteen, for the Grand Rapids Drive of the D-League than for the Pistons.  His D-League stats are fairly impressive, averaging over 17 points and 9 rebounds per game. With time, Ellenson will get stronger, develop a better NBA body and hopefully become the player many hope he can become.  Critics have already listed him and others as potential busts, but it seems way to early at this point in his career to make that judgment.

In the end, it appears that the departure was a net positive for both parties.  Henry is learning the ropes of professional basketball. Although he is struggling as rookies often do, the MU faithful are certainly hoping for major success for him.  He has enjoyed his first year in the NBA.  For Wojo and the Warriors, a year of uncertainty and turned into a year where young guys have filled major roles and likely led this team back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013. Sometimes things have a way of working themselves out just fine.

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