Keon Ellis continues to claim minutes in Mike Brown’s rotation

Mar 12, 2024; Sacramento, California, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard (0) controls the
Mar 12, 2024; Sacramento, California, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard (0) controls the / Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

From undrafted to the G League to starting on a potential playoff team: that is Keon Ellis’ NBA story. You can’t talk about the Sacramento Kings anymore without mentioning Keon Ellis. 

At first, it was just a nice story, highlighting Ellis’ hard work and the Stockton Kings’ developmental system. We all love to see young guys get their first taste of real NBA minutes and success. By now, Ellis has moved past that, however, and it doesn’t seem like he will get any DNPs in the near future.

Ellis makes winning plays, doing just what Mike Brown wants to see from his guards. He is everywhere on defense, making it seem like the Kings have an extra player out there, and gets plenty of deflections and steals. 

Steals aren’t always a reliable indicator of good defense, but they allow the Kings to get out and run, which is their best offense. Over the six games Ellis has played in March so far, he has collected a total of 13 steals, and his defensive activity has done wonders for the Kings on that end of the floor. 

Throughout the season, Mike Brown has thrown Ellis at Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, D’Angelo Russell, Devin Booker, and Damian Lillard, among others. Those are some big matchups for a 24-year-old with less than a season of NBA experience. Ellis can hold his own, however, thanks to his unique defensive skill set and unrelenting fight. 

He closes out quickly and just like Brown likes to see from his guards, navigates screens exceptionally well, and never gives up on a possession. After the Kings’ win over the Lakers, Coach Brown had high praise for Ellis, noting his 8 deflections and effort. This has become a theme. No postgame press conference goes by without someone mentioning Ellis’ defense.

Just on Tuesday, after a huge win over the Bucks, Mike Brown told reporters, “He has a chance to be a special defender.”

Keon Ellis is now 6-0 as a starter

When the 2023-24 season kicked off, no one really expected to see Ellis start games for the Kings but he just got his sixth start of the season. The first four came with De’Aaron Fox out and Ellis filling in as the point guard, then he filled in for Keegan Murray against the Bucks, and lastly for Kevin Huerter against the Lakers. 

Sacramento has won all six games. Ellis always leaves his mark on every game he plays in. We’ve already addressed his defensive impact, but he is solid offensively as well. For the season, Ellis is shooting 38.9 percent from three, which is a great mark for such an inexperienced player. He is also still developing as a playmaker. 

Putting up 14 points on 5-8 shooting, 2 rebounds, 1 block, and 3 steals in his latest start, Ellis played one of his most complete games of the season behind only the Kings’ 128-123 win over the Thunder. 

At times, his youth still shows, like when he traveled and turned the ball over on a fastbreak against LeBron James, but the more opportunities he gets, the more confident he looks offensively. 

Ellis deserves consistent minutes down the stretch

Every time Ellis steps on the court, he shows why he is there and lays a claim on consistent minutes. All season long, Mike Brown has been imploring his players to impact the game on both ends of the floor. Ellis does that.

With his three-point shooting, he is not an offensive liability while massively impacting the game defensively. That’s what you need down the stretch and in the middle of a playoff race. Being able to play Fox, Mitchell, Murray, and Ellis at the same time, allows the coaching staff to throw some effective defensive lineups out there. 

The minutes will have to come from somewhere, likely from Kevin Huerter, Harrison Barnes, and Chris Duarte, if Mitchell continues to play well, but it could really help the Kings find a defensive identity. Many fans are advocating for Ellis to be a starter from now on, but Mike Brown is not convinced yet

One thing is clear, however; we should be seeing a lot of Keon Elis from now on.