Signed as an undrafted free agent to the second of the Kings’ two-way contracts, Keon Ellis looked like he could be a rotational player for this team in a couple of years. After his Summer League performance, though, could Ellis be making the case for that to happen sooner than later?
Undrafted free agents don’t historically pack a lot of excitement among fans, but after a draft that saw a lot of second-, even first-round talent opt not to be selected and instead aim for a two-way deal, the stage was set for some intriguing post-draft signings.
There were plenty, including former players’ kids, like Scotty Pippen Jr. of the Lakers and Ron Harper Jr. of the Raptors. There were also highly touted prospects, such as Chicago’s Justin Lewis and Boston’s Trevion Williams. Another one happened to be Sacramento’s inking of Keon Ellis out of Alabama.
As a projected 3-and-D guy—a coveted role in the modern NBA—with real upside to be a true rotational guy, many Kings fans were eager to keep a keen eye on the 6’4″ guard during the upcoming summer action.
In 7 games played from the California Classic to Las Vegas, Ellis averaged 11.4 points on 44.1% shooting from the field and an impressive 46.9% clip from deep, 3.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 2.0 steals per game.
Even though the Kings couldn’t win back-to-back Summer League titles, there was plenty to like about certain players’ performances, one of them being Ellis, who had plenty of big games, including a team-high 17-point performance against the Heat at the Chase Center in a game where Murray had some trouble hitting his shots.
It was in Vegas, however, where his best performances came. Against the Magic, Ellis scored 15 points on 5 of 6 shooting from deep while also posting a steal. He followed that up with another 15 point performance against Bennedict Mathurin and the Pacers, hitting 3 of 7 from beyond the arc as well as posting 6 assists, 3 steals, and a block. Against the Thunder, Ellis scored 14 on 4 of 8 from deep with 2 steals before having a 3 steal performance against the Suns two days later.
Along with Summer League MVP Keegan Murray and last year’s second round selection Neemias Queta, Ellis was one of Sacramento’s best players this summer. Sandwiched between Murray’s projected instant impact and Queta’s need for further polishing, Ellis frequently looked like the second most NBA-ready player on the floor.
That’s not to say Ellis will be on the roster come opening night. With all the depth at his position already, it doesn’t seem likely that Ellis would see the floor very much.
Playing full time in the G League would certainly be more beneficial to his development anyway. And he could still use that time and those minutes to mature and improve in order to really show the organization that he’s a reliable piece.
But that two-way contract does present a good opportunity for him to see NBA action. Should any injuries occur or any time is missed, or if anyone on the roster falls short of expectations, there will probably be times where Ellis could be called up from Stockton.
That might be what Ellis’ nice play in the Summer League may have afforded him: trust. He proved he can provide necessary contributions to the team in a manner that does not require being a focal point. If the need arose, his shooting and defense allow him to slide right into things, and in spite of it probably being a small role in such an instance, his comfort at the top level will strengthen.
So, while it’s unlikely he’ll fill and maintain a full-time role for the Kings at the NBA level this upcoming season, it’s safe to say he’s doing a little more than just making strides. He’s put himself on the radar as well as in a position to put himself into the conversation for a role in 2023.
Veteran shooting guard Terence Davis is going into the last year of his deal and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, so there is a path to a roster spot for Keon Ellis in the not so distant future. That outlook appears more than possible, especially with the prospect of yielding the best results from Ellis’ defensive potential by placing him under the tutelage of coach Mike Brown.
Again, that’s a year we’re talking about.
For now, he’ll have to continue his work and progression to prove that he is indeed worthy of NBA minutes, but it’s obvious that he proved a lot in his time this summer. A year spent primarily in Stockton—with a chance to play in a few games for the Kings—should give him ample time to impress even more.
It’s hard to say for sure right now, but judging by the way Kings fans seem to feel in addition to his impressive Summer League numbers, Keon Ellis is off to a great start in his mission to build a career in this league as an undrafted free agent.