Keon Ellis’ Summer League: An NBA Impact Soon?

SACRAMENTO, CA - JULY 3: Keon Ellis #23 of the Sacramento Kings looks on during the game against the Golden State Warriors during the 2023 NBA California Classic on July 3, 2023 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

The topic of our fifth and final Summer League rewind is Keon Ellis, last year’s prized undrafted free agent signing.

Excluding of course Keegan Murray, who was clearly outstanding in his two California Classic performances, Jordan Ford and Ellis appeared to be the best overall performers for the Kings, but it was the latter’s abilities that look more translatable to the NBA level.

The thing that was most pleasing about Ellis this summer was that he was often an omnipresent force. On several occasions, he would find multiple ways to be involved in a play: he’d grab a rebound and follow it up with an assist, he’d help force a stop before initiating great pace, or he’d simply combine dogged defense with smart offense.

He hustled his tail off, moved with a decisive intensity, and was simply flying around. This translated into plenty of offensive rebounds and extra opportunities for his team, but most notably it turned into great defense. 

There was just something about the way he operated without the ball—on both ends—in open space. With defense in mind, Ellis may have had an ability to play centerfield or shortstop, or perhaps play safety or corner in football; his range and instincts were usually a prominent factor in his impact.

Combine that activity and hustle with great awareness, and it’s no wonder why his off-ball rotations, help, and interceptions seemed so voluminous. 

As seen on his highlight mid-air strip at the California Classic—which he nearly replicated against the Timberwolves—Ellis exhibited brilliant timing on his rotations from the weak side. Likewise, his help defense was a difference maker as his efforts were hearty. And the way he could jump passing lanes and spring up for a bat away or interception really backed up the above comparison to defensive backs in football. In short, Ellis looked to have a nose for the ball.

On-ball, he did a good job of covering his man and getting up a good contest. Ellis’ slimmer frame makes him susceptible against stronger drivers, but he nevertheless showed an ability to put in an effort that makes shots difficult and without resorting to fouling. In addition to that, he displayed some disruptive ball pressure and, at times, a savvy use of hands.

Offensively, Ellis shot the ball well. From three, he hit 38.5% of his attempts in 6 games played. He was often successful at converting from the corner and he showed hints of clutch shooting by hitting a few late-clock three’s. When defenses went under screens, he showed he could punish them, and on the other hand, he demonstrated a little bit of a midrange pull up game as well.

Ellis also finished at the rim. Hitting outside shots facilitates any ability to score inside, and Ellis could pump fake from the perimeter in order to convert at point blank range or earn free throws. 

While he had some good execution with footwork and patience, his attempts at getting down hill were not always successful, which is due to his lack of strength and elite explosiveness. 

Since he’s essentially a combo guard more than anything else, Ellis also showed some ability to initiate and facilitate. Actually, in regards to attacking the basket, his drives produced some good assists, whether by the dump off or the kick out.

Based on all of that, it seems easy to conclude Ellis had the largest two-way impact this summer.

It’s admittedly difficult to highlight a ton of unsatisfactory elements, especially compared to the other four players whose Summer League’s were analyzed. Yet he’s still very clearly a guy on a two-way contract who’s currently on the outside looking in regarding any prospect of earning NBA time, especially with his limited positional versatility.

Over the previous couple of weeks, Neemias Queta was a central focus because of his pending future. The 24 year-old was not given a third two-way contract and his Summer League was not indicating the requisite improvement to be an available piece on a contending team. 

Keon Ellis will turn 24 in January, so it’s fair to say that he could very well be reaching a critical crossroads, especially because he’s currently on his second two-way contract and will be eligible for his third when he’s 24, as was the case for Queta (though, technically, the big man was 23, just about to turn 24 when two-way deals were given to Ellis and Jalen Slawson). 

However, it’s also fair to say that Ellis looks far more NBA-ready than Queta ever has.

Still, the problem is available playtime. 

Last season, it was unlikely that Ellis was going to make a push for play with the Sacramento team as a rookie on a two-way, and it’s probably going to be more of the same barring injuries because the team is even deeper and, as noted, Ellis lacks some positional versatility.

His best moments seemed to come mostly in garbage time when playing with the NBA club a season ago, but in some of the more critical periods of time where he played, he did not look nearly as good. 

Two games in particular stood out because they occurred at a point prior to Kessler Edwards’ move into the rotation when there was an opportunity for minutes as Mike Brown was searching for a guy to “put on the floor that can contain the dribble.” 

One was the first of back-to-back contests against Dallas in February and another was the final game before the All-Star break in Phoenix. Ellis played less than a minute in that Suns game because he immediately committed a foul upon entering for a key defensive possession.

He’s on an upward track, sure, but the big thing for Ellis this year is capitalizing on any opportunity. They may be sparse if they arise at all, but who knows? So it’ll be key that he can demonstrate that he can stay ready and seamlessly step up, which may put him in a good position for next year, and perhaps another year of familiarity will help. 

But without getting too far ahead, Ellis can at least rest his hat on the fact that he had a very good Summer League performance. It’s a good sign for his development, and another productive year in Stockton should aid his evolution. Nothing is for certain though, so it’ll be intriguing to see where he’s at a year from now.

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1 month ago

I’m a really big fan of Ellis and cheering for him eventually to make the league on a real contract. I like his overall game, but it’s kinda sad he won’t have much of opportunity playing behind Huerter, Monk & now Jones & Duarte. It will take 2-3 injuries for him to see some playing time, which I wouldn’t exactly be happy about. Maybe in a year or two if they can’t retain Duarte and Jones doesn’t pan out or they move him mainly to PG…he will finally get his shot at some backup minutes. I’d be in clear favour of that, as the Kings need more players like him and Off Night to start making the defense better!