The ping pong balls have bounced, June's NBA draft order is set and it's time to begin turning our attention to how this year's crop of players will fall into place on draft day. Thanks to a new NCAA rule giving draft prospects until May 25 to decide whether to return to school, we still have another week or so before we know who all will actually be available in this year's draft pool, but for Marquette's star freshman Henry Ellenson, the countdown to next month has been in motion since the end of the college season.
Hiring an agent to make his jump to the league official, Ellenson has seen his stock hover in the lottery almost all season long, cementing his capabilities by winning the Big East Freshman of the Year award and earning First Team All-Big East honors. After averaging 17.0 points per game and 9.9 rebounds per game, Ellenson has earned his place among the top big men in this draft, projecting next to Croatia's Dragan Bender and Kentucky's Skal Labissiere as one of the top power forwards available (LSU's Ben Simmons is likely to see time at the 4 also, but is anything but a traditional big man).
With wicked handles for a player his size, a silky shooting stroke from deep, above-average athleticism and a developing interior offensive game, Ellenson is sure to garner some serious attention all over the lottery, including teams in the top ten. With the draft order ready to go, let's take a look at a few possible landing spots for the stud freshman.
*His draft stock is pretty variant depending on which source you look at, but among the top scouting names, ESPN's Chad Ford ranks Ellenson as the No. 7 prospect on his big board. DraftExpress has him a bit lower, sitting at No. 13 in their latest player rankings.
Phoenix Suns (No. 4 & 13)
It's probably safe to say that Simmons and Duke's Brandon Ingram will most likely come of the board in some order with the draft's first two picks, but after that, things get a little bit less clear at this point. No. 3 is probably still too high for Ellenson, even though he would fit with Boston's group of stretchy big men, and while No. 4 is still most likely too early based on his current value, Phoenix would make for a really natural fit. After trading away troubled power forward Markieff Morris, the Suns closed out the year with Mirza Teletovic as their starting 4, leaving a pretty gaping need at that spot for next season. Ellenson's shooting ability matches well with Phoenix's desire to spread the floor around paint-clogging centers like Tyson Chandler and Alex Len, and his sharp passing talents would also allow the team to get a little bit more creative with how they initiate their offense in the lane. It would be a surprise to see him off the board this early, but you'd have to think that if Ellenson slides the wrong direction on draft day, the Suns will be there to snatch him up with their second lottery pick (received in the aforementioned Morris trade from the Washington Wizards).
Minnesota Timberwolves (No. 5)
Another spot that may be a bit high for Ellenson's current draft stock, Minnesota is another team in need of a 4 to spread around Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns. As Towns slides periodically over to the center position, the Wolves are left with Nemanja Bjelica, Adreian Payne and the rotting corpse of Kevin Garnett to fill the power forward spot, which could lead them to look for an upgrade on draft day. They'll have to decide to whether to look at one of the guards like Providence's Kris Dunn, Kentucky's Jamaal Murray or Oklahoma's Buddy Hield, but if they choose to fill their frontcourt need and Bender is already off the board, Ellenson could be their guy.
Denver Nuggets (No. 7, 15 & 19)
Another team with multiple picks in the top half of the first round, the Nuggets could look to reach for Ellenson at No. 7 or swoop him up if he slides to No. 15. Denver has made no secret of trying to trade veteran power forward Kenneth Faried in recent years, and while Danillo Gallinari occasionally slides down in smaller lineups, they don't really have an heir apparent if the team elects to move forward without Faried next season. Nikola Jokic was terrific in his rookie season, and with Jusuf Nurkic also in the fold down low, Ellenson could help form an interesting frontcourt duo for Emmanuel Mudiay to spread things around to.
Toronto Raptors (No. 9)
The Raptors are in a kind of precarious situation, making the first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals while also facing down the impending free agency of guard DeMar DeRozan. They may have gotten quality minutes out of Patrick Patterson and some pretty "meh" minutes out of Luis Scola this season, but as of right now, Toronto really doesn't have a young power forward to pair with center Jonas Valanciunas for the future if DeRozan bolts this summer. They're in a pretty rare position to go so far into the playoffs and then add a player in the first ten picks of the draft, so since Ellenson projects to make more of an immediate impact than Bender or Labissiere, this may be a unique fit of value, scheme and need. Even better, the Raptors sit square in the area where Ellenson in most likely to start rising to the top of team's boards.
Orlando Magic (No. 11)
Just looking at Orlando's recent personnel decisions, you can tell that the team is searching for a floor-stretching power forward, but just hasn't pegged down the right guy yet. Channing Frye was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, tweener forward Tobias Harris was shipped off to Detroit and the team received Ersan Ilyasova as a part of the latter deal. Ellenson is younger than all of those guys and has better ball-handling and passing ability, which would complement Orlando's other long-term power forward in dunking madman Aaron Gordon. The Magic are starting to look like they're just a few pieces away from figuring it out, and on a team with Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Gordon, the more shooting they can add, the better.