Keon Ellis currently holds the reins on the backup point guard role as Davion Mitchell has received two straight DNP’s since De’Aaron Fox’s return.
Mike Brown has been enamored with Ellis’ impact on the floor, and justifiably so. He’s been an energetic defender, one that Fox called “a playmaker defensively” while gaining other compliments from his teammates regarding his activity and disruption.
He’s earned the job, at least for now.
Ellis is still a young, second-year player that did not see a ton of NBA time in year-one. It’d be hard to imagine that he holds onto that role the whole season without interruption. Plus, while Davion Mitchell’s season has been fairly disappointing, he’s certainly not one to count out entirely.
However, this is still clearly looking like a battle that could turn into a season-long tug-of-war between Ellis and Mitchell, which prompts a question. Will one outlast the other in the Sacramento Kings’ long term plan?
Right now, there’s room to argue that the Kings would rather have Ellis pan out over Mitchell. Both are defensive assets, but Ellis is taller and longer, and therefore more versatile. He’s also slightly younger and could cost slightly less in the short term.
Ellis’ play substantiated this thought because his energy is always beaming, his hands connect with the ball so many times on defense, and he’s nearly omnipresent defensively, both in the half and full court. Not only that, Mitchell has had a rough start to his third season, the year when players generally blossom.
Mitchell currently has the worst individual defensive rating of anyone on the Kings, he’s averaging over 4 fouls per 36 minutes, his three-point shot seems marginally improved at best, his aggression is hit or miss even as his assist numbers are slightly up, and he’s got the lowest +/- of anyone on the team.
Of course, as a perimeter on-ball defender, there are not many players that are in Mitchell’s league, but Ellis is not far off. Plus, not only is Ellis’ versatility on that end better, but he may be better off-ball.
Throughout Summer League, Ellis’ strides in instincts off the ball were on full display, and he’s shown some of that in his NBA time. He truly has a nose for the ball.
Mitchell’s not a bad off-ball or help defender at all, but it’s not the area that gets people to revere his defense. He does a terrific job of trying to draw charges, but he’s not always as aggressive or quick to rotate as a helper.
Offensively, Ellis was considered a better projected three-point shooter than Mitchell when both came out of college respectively. Mitchell may have shot over 44% from three in his final year at Baylor while Ellis shot just over 36% in his last season at Alabama, but the latter’s shot form has been regarded with better upside.
Ellis shot a solid 37% in Stockton last season and he shot 38.5% in 6 Summer League games.
Meanwhile, in year three, Mitchell’s three-point shot has not quite gotten over the hump.
A lot remains to be seen. Ellis could dip and Mitchell could rise, but even if they kind of wrestle for the backup role throughout the year, there’s still a ton of reasons to believe Ellis could ultimately replace Mitchell in the long term plans of the Kings’ front office.
Mitchell, of course, could put that thought to rest and there’s hope that he can. After all, he had his best game of the season when he was essentially demoted out of the spot-starting role in place of Fox. That challenge brought the best out of the third-year guard, and a slightly extended run outside of the rotation could produce a similar response.
Nevertheless, this is something to keep an eye on not just for this season, but also going forward as the Kings work to maintain a sustainable contender in the coming years.