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Keying in on Keon Ellis | The Weekend Warrior
NBA teams value certain skills in their role players. Shouldn't that make Keon Ellis a no-brainer as an NBA player?
Stranded on Ellis Island
So much has been made of player roles within the NBA. The game is position-less, but all major team voting is limited to voting for guards, forwards, and centers. Even now, players are able to be voted in at multiple positions in an effort to have the top players in the NBA as All-NBA First Team selections despite the requirement for positions to be filled. We have Cleveland implementing tall or long-ball. We have the Toronto Raptors with their minimum 6’8” height requirement to play. We have teams like Orlando and Utah that sport smaller backcourts. It’s starting to feel like almost every team has a unique identity for the first time since the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty began to heavily influence roster construction.
Despite teams becoming more daring in their style of play, the one player type—or archetype —that every single roster needs is the quintessential “3-and-D” player. These players, at their core, are the ultimate complementary pieces. They are typically low usage, something that teams with stars value so long as they can reliably shoot off of the catch. On the other side of the ball, these players help to prevent their star teammate(s) from depleting themself of the energy required to hit the clutch buckets fans expect. As the game has evolved, so have the expectations from a 3-and-D role-playing prospect. Gone are the days of simply standing in a corner expecting defenses to implement rudimentary schemes that would give open looks for shooting specialists. The specialists of today are more likely to be used off of movement, they can be used as decoys due to their gravity, or they might even begin an action to keep the defense honest. These players have to be trusted to make smart decisions should opposing defenses sell out on their shot in an effort to chase them off of the three-point line. Even specialists have to be relied upon with the ball in their hands.
Players who offer good defensive ability, along with reliable offensive skills, are highly sought after. Obviously, the best ones are often times taken in the first round. We know that Giannis Antetokounmpo—even though he was an unknown talent—was taken for his potential as a playmaker with the ball and his defense. Others players, such as Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Jimmy Butler, were drafted in the First Round because they played both sides. Lesser known players can take a little longer to find their place, but they can eventually make NBA rosters. Players like PJ Tucker, Patrick Beverley, and Robert Covington were either Second Round or undrafted players that make significant contributions to winning teams because they defend their tails off and hit open looks.
There are a number of players in this class that profile heavily on one side of the “3-and-D” label. For the prospects that are on the “3” side, evaluators can fall in love with the shooting motion, the repeatability, and the results, and they will use factors such as a player’s height as reason enough to believe they can become a “passable” defender. On the other side of the coin, scouts can look at a player with great physical dimensions and stellar defense and toss out “Ol’ Reliable”—if they could just add a jump shot. We say things like: “Improving a player’s shooting is one of the easiest things a prospect can do”—which could be true, but how often do we see that fail to come to fruition?
What if I did my best Morpheus impression here and asked you a question? What if I told you there is a player in this class that can defend his tail off and has a nice shot? What if I told you about a highly under-discussed prospect from the University of Alabama? What if I told you about Keon Ellis?
Part of what makes Keon Ellis a seamless fit on an NBA floor is his spacing. Spacing is important with any offensive scheme. It’s what allows a ball-handler and a screener the real estate that results in the optimal result out of the pick-and-roll. Spacing gives a player like Damian Lillard the choice to either go downhill or hit a deadly pull-up jumper. It’s what prevents the defense from crowding a player like Joel Embiid on the block. Ellis’s quick and effortless release commands the respect of the defense, which will allow whatever star player he will potentially share the floor with to play to their strengths.
You can see for yourself in this shooting montage that Keon is wet from beyond the arc. One of my favorite plays featured in the footage is actually when he misses an initial shot attempt. The ball is rebounded by Charles Bediako, finds its way to Jahvon Quinerly, and eventually makes its way back to a repositioned Ellis. Keon is able to capitalize on his second attempt from distance in an act that shows the confidence he has in himself and that the team has in him.
His teammates have plenty to put their trust in. On the season, Ellis finished the season as a 36.6% three-point shooter on 5.5 attempts per game. He was able to log a 61.4% True Shooting Percentage while having a 65.8 three-point attempt rate. What stands out is the variety of ways Ellis can get to his shot. He can hit shots off of movement or directly off of the catch. With Ellis’ impressive shooting profile, he firmly meets the initial requirement for “3-and-D” players.
As was discussed earlier, the modern NBA specialist has been asked to do more now than probably any other time in league history. Shooters have to be relied upon to make sharp and snappy decisions when they are chased off of the line. Can a player put the ball on the deck for the obligatory two dribbles? Can they make an accurate bounce pass when the defense adjusts to their attack? If the answer to those questions is no, then good luck seeing significant playing time. While he is used more so for his shooting, Keon has the ancillary skill set that NBA teams look for in a role player.
This video shows a multitude of looks that shooters can be presented with against a recovering defense. Ellis shows a keen awareness as to when he should apply compounding pressure. Keon understands that if he attacks off of a kickout, he can freeze defenses and give his teammate an open shot from deep simply by attacking the recovering defense. This causes more confusion, which results in an open jumper. We’ve also seen him catch the ball, hit an up-fake, take a quick dribble, and pass it along the perimeter for a quick three. He attacks well off of the corner and utilizes whip passes well to give his teammates plenty of time to gather and release. Even when he doesn’t pump fake out of the corner, he’s quick to swing the ball for a hockey assist.
Ellis didn’t log a massive amount of assists—59 in total for the season, or 1.8 per game. However, the reads that he does make are savvy. On top of being capable of making the correct read when the play breaks down, Ellis rebounds very well for his position. On the season, Keon averages 1.9 Offensive Rebounds, 4.2 Defensive Rebounds, and 6.1 Total Rebounds per game. Being a plus-rebounder positionally, on top of being a sound decision-maker, all add up to Ellis being an “And” player.
Haha. Moving on. Putting it all together on both ends of the floor is very difficult. The one thing that will cause a young, unproven talent to be yanked off of the court is for them to be played off of the court—giving up easy buckets. Players that aren’t lottery-level talents, or those not taken in the lottery, I should say, are very rarely given the benefit of the doubt. Teams aren’t necessarily married to their development. In order for the “3” to matter, in order for the “and” to matter, the “D” has to be a true strength for most NBA coaches to be confident in divvying out bench minutes.
There are some impressive examples shown above that reinforce the defensive value Ellis gave Alabama this year. The Tide often gave Keon the toughest assignments this year, which featured matchups against JD Notae, Kameron McGusty, Hyunjung Lee, Blake Wesley, Kevin McCullar—the list expands beyond those names. In the 32 games that Ellis played, he only fouled out once and averaged only 2.7 fouls per game on the year in 30.9 minutes per game. He averaged 1.9 steals per game and 0.6 Blocks per game, and he was named to the SEC All-Defense First Team.
Ellis was named to that team for good reason. The reel above shows but a taste of how impactful his defense has been on the season. He possesses sound footwork, and he is rarely ever found in a position that tests his recovery ability. He slides his feet well, tracking the ball-handlers center of mass while simultaneously anticipating the direction the basketball will travel. He can stay at home with no problem, but he has an acute sense of when to gamble with his reach. While dancing with his teammates while defending the Pick-and-Roll, Ellis often gives concise instruction as to where he is going to rotate, if they will switch, or when they will ambush the ball handler to force a turnover. Should his opponent turn the corner, Ellis has the athleticism and instincts to either tap the ball loose, force an errant shot, or reject it altogether.
Early NBA Draft Entrants:
As we continue to march on towards the draft, we are seeing more and more prospects declare for the NBA Draft. We’ll continue to provide the players that have declared, starting with the ones that have declared since the last Sunday’s issuance of “The Weekend Warrior” article. There will be a line of demarcation between the ones that were named last week. Here they are:
Jaylin Williams | Arkansas | Big | Sophomore
Jabari Smith Jr. | Auburn | Forward | Freshman
Walker Kessler | Auburn | Big | Sophomore
Kennedy Chandler | Tennessee | Guard | Freshman
TyTy Washington Jr. | Kentucky | Guard | Freshman
Isiaih Mosley | Missouri State | Guard | Junior
Tyler Burton | Richmond | Wing | Junior
David Roddy | Colorado State | Forward | Junior
Drew Timme | Gonzaga | Big | Junior
Marcus Sasser | Houston | Guard | Junior
Keion Brooks Jr. | Kentucky | Wing | Junior
* Names from last week*
Nijel Pack | Kansas State | Guard | Sophomore
Kenneth Lofton Jr. | Louisiana Tech | Big | Sophomore
Tari Eason | LSU | Forward | Sophomore
Josh Minott | Memphis | Forward | Freshman
Iverson Molinar | Mississippi State | Guard | Junior
Bryce McGowens | Nebraska | Wing | Freshman
Blake Wesley | Notre Dame | Guard | Freshman
EJ Liddell | Ohio State | Big | Junior
Jordan Hall | Saint Joseph’s | Perimeter | Sophomore
Baylor Scheierman | South Dakota State | Wing | Junior
Kevin McCullar | Texas Tech | Perimeter | Junior
Kendall Brown | Baylor | Forward | Freshman
Jabari Walker | Colorado | Forward | Sophomore
Keegan Murray | Iowa | Forward | Sophomore
Jake LaRavia | Wake Forest | Wing | Junior
Mike Miles Jr. | TCU | Guard | Sophomore
Harrison Ingram | Stanford | Forward | Freshman
Aminu Mohammed | Georgetown | Guard | Freshman
Jalen Williams | Santa Clara | Wing | Junior
Jaden Ivey | Purdue | Guard | Sophomore
Jonathan Davis | Wisconsin | Guard | Sophomore
Max Christie | Michigan State | Guard | Freshman
Malaki Branham | Ohio State | Guard | Freshman
Dereon Seabron | North Carolina State | Perimeter | Sophomore
Julian Champagnie | St. John’s | Wing | Junior
Enter the Transfer Portal:
Like the players that are continuing to declare for the Draft, there have been more prospects looking to potentially play for another school. We’ll separate the players who have declared since last Sunday from the players listed last week. Here they are:
Noah Williams | Washington State | Guard | Junior
Dre Davis | Louisville | Perimeter | Sophomore
Doug Edert | St. Peter’s | Guard | Junior
Matthew Lee | St. Peter’s | Guard | Junior
Daryl Banks III | St. Peter’s | Guard | Junior
Kenneth Lofton Jr. | Louisiana Tech | Big | Sophomore
* Names from last week*
Jalen Bridges | West Virginia | Forward | Sophomore (R.S)
Jaiden Delaire | Stanford | Forward | Grad Transfer
Joseph Bamisile | George Washington | Guard | Sophomore
Fardaws Aimaq | Utah Valley | Big | Junior (R.S)
Will Richard | Belmont | Guard | Freshman
Trevon Brazile | Missouri | Forward | Freshman
Brandon Murray | LSU | Guard | Freshman
Xavier Pinson | LSU | Guard | Grad Transfer
Terrence Shannon Jr. | Texas Tech | Wing | Junior
Samuell Williamson | Louisville | Wing | Junior
Andre Curbelo | Illinois | Guard | Sophomore
Nelly Cummings | Colgate | Guard | Grad Transfer
Manny Bates | North Carolina State | Big | Junior
Earl Timberlake | Memphis | Guard | Sophomore
Nijel Pack | Kansas State | Guard | Sophomore
Mark Sears | Ohio | Guard | Sophomore
Efton Reid | LSU | Big | Freshman
Courtney Ramey | Texas | Guard | Graduate
Alex Fudge | LSU | Wing | Freshman
Ready to Report:
As the days have passed over the past week, many of the players who declared for the transfer portal have committed to play for new universities. Let’s take a look at who will be sporting new colors:
Doug Edert: From Saint Peter’s to Bryant University
Will Richard: From Belmont to Florida
Trevon Brazile: From Missouri to Arkansas
Nelly Cummings: From Colgate to Pittsburgh
Mark Sears: From Ohio to Alabama
Warriors of the Week:
David McCormack, C, Kansas
(vs. North Carolina; W) 15 Points [7/15 FG, 1/2 FT], 10 Rebounds (7 D.Rebs; 3 O.Rebs), 1 Steal, 1 Block, 1 Turnover, 4 Fouls.
Armando Bacot, C, North Carolina
(vs. Kansas; L) 15 Points [3/13 FG, 9/13 FT], 15 Rebounds (9 D.Rebs; 6 O.Rebs), 2 Assists, 1 Steal, 1 Block, 3 Turnovers, 3 Fouls.
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