Last night’s game was a matchup between two young up-and-coming teams in the Western Conference, headlined by the battle of the two young All-Star point guards. De’Aaron Fox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander both finished the game with over 40 points, putting on quite the show.
That’s what we expected from this game: seeing two of the future top point guards in the league battling it out. What few people expected to see was Keon Ellis stealing some of the spotlight.
Amid two forty-pieces his 17 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block don’t seem like too much, but it marks a career night for the youngster.
Ellis is a surprise success story for the Kings this season. While Kevin Huerter, Davion Mitchell, and Harrison Barnes, for example, are all not playing their best basketball, and games are defined by up-and-downs, Ellis is making a name for himself in the league.
It all started in early November when the Kings were steamrolled by the Rockets. Coach Mike Brown was looking for someone to compete, to fight a losing battle, and Ellis answered the call, scoring 15 points in 14 minutes.
After that, he was in the rotation, taking Mitchell’s spot, and suddenly, the Kings were starting a two-way player with little NBA experience when Fox was hurt. Since then, Ellis has been giving it his all every time he gets a chance to be on the court and is solidifying his spot in the rotation.
Keon Ellis’ career night strengthens his case for minutes
When Keon Ellis signed his second two-way deal with the Kings, everyone knew he would have to work hard for minutes. Fox, Monk, Huerter, Mitchell, Chris Duarte, and rookie Colby Jones were all theoretically ahead of him in the guard rotation.
Last night, he played 27 minutes and closed the game while Duarte, Mitchell, and Jones all collected DNPs, and Huerter only played 20 minutes. Ellis started twice this season, but Coach Brown rarely ever closed games with him, so last night’s game marked an important milestone for the young guard.
He and Monk were instrumental in securing a 128-123 win over the Thunder off the Kings’ bench. Both came out with incredible energy on both ends of the floor.
Guarding Gilgeous-Alexander is not an easy task, especially for someone who barely had 30 NBA games under his belt going into the game, but Ellis never backed down. He competed, picked up full court, didn’t let fouls faze him, and showed just why Coach Brown gave him the assignment.
Putting a 23-year-old two-way player on the other team’s best player is a massive vote of confidence from the coaches, and Brown stressed his faith in Ellis after the game. “He just doesn’t seem to get rattled out there,” he told reporters after the game. “We have faith or confidence, however you want to call it, in him.”
Brown gave special praise to Ellis for his defense, mentioning how good his length, quickness, and instincts are on that end of the court. Fox voiced the same sentiment.
“He was big for us tonight…He was active defensively, and I think he’s done that ever since he’s gotten into the rotation, and I think all the work he does behind the scenes showed tonight,” the All-Star point guard said of his young teammate.
Ellis also spoke at the postgame presser and gave a lot of credit to his teammates for helping him out whenever he needs some pointers and having confidence in him.
During his first season with the Kings, Ellis only averaged 4.4 minutes across 16 games. That has increased significantly, and it is great for his development. With every game, he looks more comfortable on the court, and while he has things to work on, his growth is a great sign for the Kings.
He probably won’t shoot like he did last night every game, and he is not a great playmaker yet, but playing him in the second unit with Monk and/or Sabonis makes the latter somewhat irrelevant. Plus, he has solid potential all over the court.
Ellis is not only working for a spot in the rotation. He wants a standard NBA contract, and for the Kings, his development presents an opportunity to mold a young G League player into a rotational piece for them.
When Ellis plays like this—with energy, competitiveness, and confidence—he is a smooth fit in the Kings’ system, and after last night, we will surely see more of him.